Archive for January, 2013

I realize that 5 straight Sundance posts may be a little monotonous, but I wanted to pull back from reviews and do a quick wrap-up of how the festival went this year.

2013 was my second year as a member of the press and I can tell you, it’s extra fun when you know your way around. Also, unlike Sundance 2011 where I just wandered around by myself for 10 days (not complaining, it was face melting) I was actually able to meet up with friends and family from time to time this year, which is always nice.

Also, the number 1 question I get about Sundance is always “Who did you see that’s famous?” I cannot emphasize enough how little I care about celebrity, except as an extension or a result of artistic talent, so let me merely say “lots” and let’s leave it at that.

Movies

This year I was able to see 17 films over a 9-day period. It helped that I now live 30 minutes from park city (instead of the 2-hour drive I took every day while at USU) and thanks to some convenient work scheduling around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I was able to spend 4 straight, uninterrupted days basking in the mecca of moviedom (in addition to driving up every night after work. I’m still catching up on lost sleep.)

Of the 17, there was only one flat-out bomb (Ass Backwards) and I generally enjoyed the remainder. If I were to pick a top 5 to watch out for, I would say (in order) A.C.O.D., Don Jon’s Addiction, In A World…, The Way, Way Back and After Tiller (already there’s titles I want to add to that list. If you want to know more about the individual films click here, here, here and here).

I can say that this year I definitely gravitated more toward the comedies and dramedies, but there were a number of dramas (Two Mothers, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Breathe In) that I enjoyed very much and you should catch if, and when, you can.

I was also able to do some interviews with the cast of May In The Summer, a perk I usually haven’t taken advantage of. Bill Pullman was completely charming and conversational and I made an utter fool of myself trying to question Alia Shawkat.

I also ran into my sister Mandie by happenstance at a screening of Austenland. The woman pictured to my left is the winner of the International Shorts competition.

Austenland is based on a book by Shannon Hale and produced by Twilight creator Stephanie Meyer. The crowd was filled with Twilight sympathizers and we actually ended up walking out of the post-screening Q&A because all anybody wanted to ask the director about was Meyer. Gag.

Music

As always, one of the best parts of Sundance is the live bands that invade Park City as an auxiliary to the festival. Generally speaking I choose a screening over the ASCAP music cafe unless it’s a band that I particularly like, which this year was the case with The Head and The Heart.

I love THATH. I saw them last fall in Salt Lake City and while their Sundance set was short (about 30 minutes) it was basically just tightly compressed awesome-ness. They played 3 new songs (they claimed for the “first time” but I doubt it, bands always say stuff like that. They’re kind of like bad girlfriends that way) which I can’t wait to hear again, and rocked some colossal facial hair and a pimp hat.

On closing weekend, my cousin-in-law’s band “Van Lady Love” played a set at Cisero’s on main. Of his two bands (that I know of) I had never heard VLL and it was nice to sit down and relax and take in a nice local bar-show. People often ask me what they should do if they “go up to Sundance.” Honestly, there’s not much you CAN do without either planning ahead or spending some serious coin (or both) but on the weekends you can pretty much bet that any bar on Main is rocking some live tunes.

But the crème de la crème of the music category came courtesy of my BFF (best female friend) Emily, whose connections got us into the Fender Music Lodge on opening weekend where no other than Corey F*ing Feldman was spinning some tunes with his “band” Corey’s Angles. I put “band” in quotes because the act consisted of Feldman in a shiny suit, screaming nearly-unintelligible lyrics into a microphone while winged lingerie-clad women swayed from side to side behind him.

The party was a weird amalgam of SWAG. It was apparently sponsored by Fender (free beanies), a potato chip company (our connection to the party), Hatch Family Chocolates (delicious) and some company that makes vegan chicken (don’t ask me how, but also delicious).

We caught a good hour of Feldman’s set (which included the chart-topping hit “Duh,” the lyrics of which consisted mostly of the word “Duh”) And, to top the night off, we were able to get pictures with “Mouth” himself.

Bonus

Beside the films, the best thing about Sundance was getting out of the nasty haze in Salt Lake City. We got some snow toward the end, but the first days of the festival was nothing but clear skies and sunshine. The first day driving up, I actually had this weird moment where I was confused and disoriented when the sun hit my eyes. It took me about 2 minutes before I remembered that I had sunglasses in the car and that it was appropriate to use them.

The opening day press conference was also interesting this year. Redford was asked about the Newtown shooting and what role violence in the media played in mass shootings.

It’s an old debate, and media people tend to brush it away. But Redford remarked about how often guns are featured in movie advertisements and suggested Hollywood needs to ask itself whether it’s ok to use guns to sell tickets.

And, once again, I was able to bookend the festival with one of my favorite events: Film Church. Essentially, on the last day of Sundance, festival director John Cooper and director of programming Trevor Groth host a group small group of festival-goers for a casual discussion on their favorite moments of the festival. They share backstage anecdotes (such as whether or not Shia Lebouf was high on acid) and bring in the winner of the Grand Jury award and essentially shoot the breeze about independent film. It’s magical.

I can only hope that I’ll be able to get credentials for next year. If not I suppose I’ll just have to fork over the cash for a festival package like everyone else (It would’ve cost me $250 to buy individual tickets to the 17 movies I saw, not to mention the concerts and extra events, so the packages really are a good deal).

Until then, I’ve got a lot of catching up on Hulu to do.

Read Full Post »

A.C.O.D

After opening with a home-video style recording of a child’s ninth birthday, disrupted by the angry shouting of parents nearby, A.C.O.D. (short for “Adult Children of Divorce”) jumps ahead two decades where we find now-adult Carter (Adam Scott) a successful restaurant owner with a beautiful girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But when Carter’s younger brother announces his engagement, Carter is called in to broker a peace between their long divorced parents.

That catalyst is the first domino that sends Carter’s world unraveling, as he is forced to face demons quietly held at bay for years and tucked away in the dark corners of his bruised emotional psyche. Guiding him through that process is Jane Lynch, who plays a novelist and researcher who worked with Carter as a young boy for a self-help book on children of divorce and now, years later, hopes to write a sequel about the “least parented generation in American history.”

A.C.O.D. is, simply, brilliant. Hilariously funny, movingly sincere, effortlessly directed and superbly acted. Scott, already a poster boy for relatable everymen, crushes it as the damaged but determined Carter and his supporting cast (an A-list of veteran character actors like Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara) gels together with precision comic timing and better emotion, actually, than a real family. Then, in Act III, the movie builds organically to a poignant, satisfying and also perfectly ambiguous ending.

Grade: A

May In The Summer

This year’s first-day premiere film, May In The Summer is the second feature directed by writer and star Cherien Dabis and tells the story of a Jordan-American family who travels to the homeland to plan the wedding of oldest daughter May (Dabis). Once there, May encounters hostility from her family over her mixed-cultural relationship and confronts her own cold feet about marriage while navigating the rocky tensions lingering between her separated parents (Bill Pullman and The Visitor’s Hiam Abbass).

MITS’ greatest strength is it’s showcasing of Jordan, a seldom-photographed locale which also becomes a ghost character in the film as characters casually remark about the Christian-Muslim tensions in the regions, Palestinian nationhood and the westernization of Jordanian culture. For example, a younger sister (played by Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) refers to the Burka-shrouded orthodox women as “Ninjas” and several scenes of May being ogled while jogging double are used to provide a stranger-in-a-strange land visual for the film.

Ultimately enjoyable but not altogether memorable, May In The Summer is an impressive creation for a young director-actress. While it may not make an enormous splash, Dabis is likely to see more projects coming her way.

Grade: B

C.O.G.

Based on a short story by David Sedaris, C.O.G. tells the story of David, a Yale collegiate who decides he needs a change of pace, heading out to the Oregon coast to work as a laborer in an apple orchard. The title is an acronym for “Child Of God,” part of a religious undertone that runs underneath the film’s central plot as the atheistic David is (eventually) taken under the wing of a proselytizer.

C.O.G. has several winning, Sedaris-esque moments — such as one show-stopping line where star Jonathan Groff attempts to diffuse a tense situation by remarking on the furniture — but the film ultimately suffers from a poorly constructed and loosely connected narrative. The movie is essentially two stories jutted haphazardly together, as Act I is concerned with David move to Oregon and work in the apple industry — a “Cog” in a machine, if you will — and Act II transforming entirely into a sort of buddy drama as David learns the trade of stoneworking.

When the screen ultimately fades to black, it’s unclear what it is our protagonist was meant to have learned or why we, the audience, is expected to care.

Grade: B-

Breathe In

During the Q&A with director Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) and the crew of “Breathe In” that followed the film’s screening, I saw something I’ve never seen. First, an audience member bluntly asked the filmmakers about the decisions behind what he felt was a predictable script and second, the audience turned on the questioner with a level of boos and hisses that typically accompanies road show melodramas.

It’s not that the man’s question didn’t have merit. Breathe In tells the story of a discontented high school music teacher/semi-professional cello player who suddenly confronts the lingering dissonance he feels for his quiet, suburban life when a beautiful and mysterious foreign exchange student arrives in his home. From start to finish, the film follows what could be described as a pre-set path, as attraction leads to temptation, which shifts into action and conflict.

The difference however, is the directorial style of Doremus, a sort of hand-held eavesdropping technique which makes every movement and word hum with artistic significance, and the screenwriter’s efforts to create an intellectual romance, rather than a run-of-the-mill story of lust and physicality.

Life, after all, is unpredictable, but in Doremus’ hands Breathe In manages to entertain and enthrall while still maintaining every ounce of realism and relatability. It does not quite reach the emotional heights of Like Crazy (which won the grand jury award at the 2011 festival), but Doremus nonetheless presents an immersive, tragic tale filled with tenderness and sincerity.

Grade: B+

Dirty Wars

In this documentary, journalist Jeremy Scahill leads us on a globe-trotting examination of the United States war on terror. Beginning in a remote village of Yemen where a series of covert night raids had been executed and eventually making it’s way to regions of Africa where U.S.-sponsored war lords roam the streets with small armies hunting down America’s enemies, Dirty Wars argues that the War On Terror serves little more purpose than perpetuating a war on terror and in the 10 year’s since 9/11 the government’s power to carry out targeted killings has only increased while transparency and oversight have diminished.

The first half of the film is hard to follow, with Scahill conducting interviews with the families of the dead without adequately explaining why we, the audience are meant to be outraged. In Act II, however, the film hits its stride, with a set of sit-down chats with bonafide warlords and anonymous voice-masked interviews with inside sources about the illegalities and gray-area actions of the Joint Special Operations Command.

All in all, Dirty Wars makes a number of interesting points and raises some profound questions, but it does so amidst a cloud of directorial white noise that makes it all-too-easy to miss the point.

Grade: B

The Way, Way Back

After picking up a pair of Oscars for their work writing The Descendants, actor-writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (Community’s Dean Pelton and Ben & Kate’s Ben Fox) took their long-in-limbo script for The Way, Way Back and decided to make the darned thing themselves.

They got plenty of help, namely their all-star cast of Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Allison Janney and Maya Rudolph.

TWWB tells the story of Duncan (Liam James) a teenager smack-dab in the middle of his “awkward phase” who is dragged against his will on a summer vacation with his mom (Collette) and her new boyfriend (Carell). Once there, he struggles to find his place between the boozy adults and their Ken and Barbie children, ultimately finding his way to a nearby waterpark where he’s taken under the wing of the endearingly-arrested man-child manager (Rockwell).  It is there, with his new family of waterpark misfits, that Duncan feels comfortable enough to poke his head out of the teenage cocoon and find a voice.

The movie starts out slow, and Carell’s arc doesn’t seem fully realized, but the introduction of Rockwell and Water Wizz inject this coming-of-age tale with a shot of adrenaline as the plot comes alive with wit, nostalgia and the kind of heartfelt inspiration showcased in similar indies like Little Miss Sunshine and It’s Kind of a Funny Story. James as Duncan is exceptional, almost off-putting in his early on-screen awkwardness before transforming organically in front of your eyes. Faxon and Rash also pop up in a pair of understated bit parts, contributing to some of the most memorable moments and, for those of us paying attention behind the scenes, making the success of the story all the more personal.

After getting acquired by Fox Searchlight for nearly $10 million, this indie charmer will be making it’s way to a theater near you very soon.

Grade: A-

Read Full Post »

Seeing as how “Austenland” was helmed by Utahn Jerusha Hess, adapted from a novel by Utahn Shannon Hale and produced by the world’s second-most-loved Mormon (after Mitt Romney, natch) Stephenie Meyer, it seemed fitting to do a breakaway review seperate from the quick capsule treatments I’ve been giving everything else.

Austenland tells the story of Jane, an early-30s Austen aficionado played by Keri Russell whose seemingly sole escape from hum-drum existence is her passionate obsession for Pride and Prejudice and, particularly, Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy. A cardboard cutout of the proud man (or was he prejudiced? I can never tell) guards her doorway and a collection of antique tea pots, dolls, embroideries and other paraphernalia line her walls.

After a rude and depressing advance from a homely co-worker, Jane decides to blow a small fortune to go to Austenland, a fully-immersive, Austen-inspired Regency Era experience in England, lorded over by former Bond girl Jane Seymour. There, all modern contraptions are done away with for a summer of gowns, pheasant hunting, balls and hired actors paid to romance and woo the young women who had always dreamed of living out one of Austen’s novels and finding their own Darcy.

It is there we meet the remainder of our cast, a one-percenter who’s never picked up a book, much less P&P (Jennifer Coolidge), Georgia King as the third participant in the experience and the three actors trained to woo them, Ricky Whittle, James Callis and, most importanly, JJ Feild as the resident Darcy.

Amidst the role playing and Tom Foolery, Jane runs into and strikes up an unscripted friendship with Martin (Flight of the Concord’s Bret McKenzie), a grounds worker at the resort who makes up the third prong in the fim’s central love triangle.

The movie is, unrepentantly, a romantic comedy, but Jerusha’s attention to both P&P detail as well as her penchant for the absurd (she co-wrote Sundance darling Napoleon Dynamite) elevate Austenland above the genre fold. Coolidge, channeling her loud-mode character from Legally Blond can be a little tiring at first, but as Jane takes center stage in the plot and Coolidge is pushed more the sidelines the crazy man/straight man balance finds its mark.

Also, Russell is as charming as every (which is saying something) as Jane, and she trades effortlessly from Elizabeth Bennett-esque quips with Feild to schoolgirl-with-a-crush with McKenzie.

Between the Austenphiles and Twilight crowd, I expect Austenland (which was acquired by Sondy) will make buckets of money in theaters. In this case, however, it’s a chick flick that earns its success.

Grade: B+

Read Full Post »

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

In her first film since The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo, Rooney Mara joins Casey Affleck and the indie-ubiquitous Ben Foster in a near-modern day Western about a pair of Texas criminals. After a job goes south, Affleck’s Bob takes the fall for his wife shooting a police officer, allowing the pregnant Ruth to raise their child in freedom, waiting for the day they can be reunited.

But then Bob springs loose after four years, and things get complicated as both the law and a trio of underworld scum come looking for him at Ruth’s doorstep.

The film is a taught, quiet, slow-burn thriller, showcasing the acting chops of all three of its leads. Affleck is particularly good as the tortured soul, hardly remorseful for his past sins and motivated by a singular goal of joining his family. Mara, who despite her A-list making role in the aforementioned David Fincher adaptaion is still relatively unknown to audiences, gives us a wholly new side of herself, adopting a convincing Texas drawl and the emotional subtlety of a woman torn between past and present.

Grade: B+

In A World…

Most Sundance comedies come with an asterisk, some sort of dark element or imbedded creation that toes the line between laughter and tears. How surprised I was, then, to see a bona-fide, low stakes comedy and, what’s more, a really good one at that.

IAW follows Carol – played by writer, director and star Lake Bell – the daughter of a Hollywood voice-over legend struggling to break her way into the business. The film is set after the real life death of “The Voice of God” Don LaFontaine amidst a fictional trio of voice actors vying to take over the now empty throne of movie trailer narration (hence the title, i.e. “In a world, where no one is safe…”).

The movie is structured as an ensemble comedy, with the plot playfully and effortlessly hopping between several sub-plots involving marriage problems, daddy issues, and a bit of romance. Most notably, Bell has so carefully and expertly rounded out her cast with a who’s-who list of underrated comedy actors (Rob Corddry, Demitri Martin, Nick Offerman, etc.) that essentially everything that takes place on screen zips and buzzes with perfect timing and chemistry.

The final five minutes over-extends the movie’s welcomes, and the ultimate climax leaves a little to be desired, but overall In A World.. is one of the more sincere and effortless laughs I’ve had in some time.

Grade: A-

Afternoon Delight

In this riff on the bored housewife tale, Afternoon Delight gives us HIMYM’s Josh Radnor and Girls’ Kathryn Hahn as a married couple with a flickering flame. After a spice-it-up date night at a local strip club, Hahn’s character develops a sort of curious fascination with a stripper/sex worker (Juno Temple) who she then hires as a live-in nanny.

Her justification for doing so is a new-feministic desire to help a fellow sister out of a bad situation, but it becomes increasingly clear that the wife’s motivation lies in some vicarious obsession with the danger and raunch of the young woman’s taboo life.

The characters in Afternoon Delight never seem fully realized, and their motivations similarly dip into convenience from time to time. The resolution after the inevitable crises is also swept up with a little too much haste, quickly arriving at catharsis without really demonstrating exactly how, or why, anything has changed.

But, the film is nothing if not interesting, lingering in the quiet moments between words and the hidden meanings behind the actions and routines shared by friends, lovers and strangers. Radnor and Hahn are enjoybale as an extremely everyday alt-Hollywood portrayal of a married couple and while the premise is not likely something most people will encounter in their own lives, the characters seem like an amalgam of everyone you’ve ever known.

Grade: B

Ass Backwards

With a cast that includes the amazing Casey Wilson (Happy Endings), June Diane Raphael (New Girl, as well as my favorite podcast How Did This Get Made), Bob OdenKirk (Breaking Bad) and Jon Cryer (Sixteen Candles — I refuse to acknowledge his more current role) it’s somewhat baffling how AB could have gone so terribly, terribly wrong.

To simply say that this “comedy” fails would neglect the physical discomfort you feel while watching it. It’s a lot like watching two hours of bad high school improv.

Written by Wilson and Raphael, Ass Backwards follows the dimwitted Chloe and Kate as they make a road trip home to participate in a pseudo-reunion of a beauty pageant they lost as children. The structure is essentially a female Dumb and Dumber, as an incessant series of implausible and contrived errors lead the pair to a community of uber-feminists, an amateur night at a strip club (gee, no one’s ever done that joke before), the hovel of a crack addict and finally, to the beauty pageant where the audience is ultimately put out of their misery.

Grade: D-

Very Good Girls

In VGG, Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen play a pair of 17-year-old besties in their final carefree summer before the onset of college-aged adulthood. They’re portrayed, a little heavy-handedly, as a perfectly joined yin and yang, with Fanning the daughter of a rich mansion-dwelling nuclear family and Olsen the hippie offspring of gluten-free and free-range dining Richard Dreyfous and Demi Moore (who, oddly, is given almost nothing to do in the film).

One day, while biking the boardwalk on Coney Island, they meet David, a grumpy but beautiful ice cream vendor. He is the poster child of cliched YA fiction male romantic interests, with his gruff and sullen exterior hinting at a gentle and artistic center that both women immediately pick up on and swoon over.

David’s lazy creation is but the most egregious of the film’s two-dimensional character and plot constructions. The plot ambles along well-traveled paths, briefly arriving at an impressive union of sight and sound in the middle section, only to lose itself in a swamp of inexplicable character actions and forced conflict as it limps its way to the finish line.

It’s not that Good Girls is particularly bad, it’s just that its coming-of-age retread is aggressively mediocre.

Grade: C+

Read Full Post »

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival is humming away up in the mountains of Park City, Utah. Here’s a quick look at the movie’s I’ve seen, in the order I saw them. More to come as the festival goes on.

Crystal Fairy

Michael Cera has two different films at Sundance this year, both set in Chile and both dealing with relationships between men and women. In Crystal Fairy, Cera is an American stranger-in-a-strange land and also completely unlikeable, petulantly fixated on a trip to the Chilean coast to drink the hallucinogenic juice of the San Pedro cactus. Along the way he crosses paths with the free-spirited Crystal Fairy, invites her along on the trip and then spends the rest of the film insulting her and annoying his friends.

Cera’s three Chilean companions, the Silva Brothers, are the high point of the film, playing each of their roles with an earnest and heartwarming sincerity. But between Cera’s obnoxious ramblings, Crystal Fairy’s neo-hippie antics (including a good 10 minutes of intentionally unerotic and uncomfortable nudity) and the film’s lackadaisical plot, the sporadic moments of great art and comedy get lost along with whatever “point” the filmmaker was trying to make.

Grade: B-

Newlyweeds

There’s a lot of movies about drug addiction out there, and somehow Newlyweeds manages to rise above and fall beneath them all at the same time. The movie follows New York couple Nina and Lyle, the former a spiritualistic museum guide and the latter a repo man who likes to come home and lose himself in smoke after a long day’s work.

Newlyweeds has some great moments, particularly those centered around Lyle’s work – such as a pot-fueled dream sequence where he and his coworker are an 80s-noir crime-fighting duo and a later scene where they trick themselves into the home of a woman to retrieve her freezer. The ending is also an intriguing, artistic construction, but unfortunately the movie gets a little lost on the way as Lyle’s drug use gets out of control and we spend altogether too much time watching him come back from a rut. We also never seem to learn much about Nina which makes her, like the audience, simply along for the ride.

Grade: B-

After Tiller

In 2009, late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller was assassinated while attending church services in Kansas. His death left four of his friends and former colleagues as the only practicing late-term abortionists in the country.

In After Tiller, directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson invite us into the lives and practices of these four doctors, as they struggle to provide a service they deem morally and ethically necessary as groups literally and figuratively gather outside to stop them. You could criticize the movie for being one-sided, but the quiet tone of the film is less about debate as it is about demonstration. Most people never see the inside of an abortion clinic, but the picket lines, banners and megaphones outside paint a picture of dark alleyways and rusty scalpels. By making this documentary, the audience is shown a staff of emotionally invested, caring people, who struggle with the ethical implications of what they do and worry about what a woman may resort to if denied the service that only they can provide.

There are no simple answers to the abortion debate, but by stripping away the yelling, screaming and high emotion that typically surrounds a discussion of the issue, Shane and Wilson are able to provide probing and insightful answers from some of the most hated people in America.

Grade: A-

Don Jon’s Addiction

In his feature directorial debut, Sundance darling Joseph Gordon Levitt (who also wrote and stars in the film) adopts an array of sleeveless muscle tees, a Joizy accent and a slicked back crew cut as the womanizing and porn-addicted Jon.

The movie is full of things that would make my mother blush, but it’s also filled with a surprising amount of heart and love for its array of loveable-while-unlikeable characters. JGL tells us the story of a man learning how to make connections in the real world but also paints one of the most clever juxtapositions I’ve ever seen of the way both men AND women objectify each other. JGL’s Jon unrealistic expectations of women and romance, bred by his years of heavy pornography consumptions, is placed in contrast and reflection to his paramour’s (played with all the gum-chewing, hair twirling patter of a Jersey Shore cast reject) obsessions with derivative romantic comedies (I won’t spoil it, but this is demonstrated by a pair of winningly coy, self-referential cameos).

Also, for a first-time director, JGL masterfully cuts the film together, using computer sound cues and tones with expert precision and perfectly sinking his cuts with the beat and rhythm of the music and story. His characters slow-burn transformation is both seemless and natural and I have no doubt this film will be making its way to theaters very soon.

Grade: A

*Update: Don Jon’s Addiction was acquired by Relativity Media Media on Monday, reported by indiewire

Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings, the beat generation biopic by director John Krokidas, is fun, profound, hypnotic and beautiful, yet suffers from a central conceit. The filmmaker assumes that the characters of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are so well-known, so colossal, that there’s no need to explain why the college shenanigans of a group of rambunctious writers is important. He assumes that the wandering, abstract plot structure is interesting simply because the characters being portrayed are of general interest, and I’m not sure that is, universally, the case. I’ve read Kerouac, I’m still not convinced what all the fuss is about.

BUT, before I begin to sound like some sanctimonious twit, whatever hangups I may have (shared or individual) with the structure, they are quickly overcome by the collection of phenomenal performances in this film. Daniel Radcliffe, the boy who lived, slips coolly into the skin of a fish-out-of-water disciple of older, more worldly men. Jack Huston is magnetic as Kerouac and Dane DeHaan (who broke out last year in the little seen but sensational Chronicle) simply sizzles as Lucien Carr, the brilliant but damaged mind who unites this ragtag of misfits and embroils them in scandal.

Grade: B+

Two Mothers

During the opening press conference of the 2013 Festival, director John Cooper said commented that one recurring theme in this year’s selections was the idea of complex sexual relationships. Two Mothers, an Australian drama about lifelong friends who begin secret affairs with each other’s adult sons, certainly fits into that category.

As the titular mothers, Naomi Watts and Robin Wright are charming and fragile as their pseudo-mid life crises throws them into the arms of the much-younger and much-inappropriate men they watched grow form infancy as surrogate family. Once the central, and arguably contrived, plot point is introduced, the remaining inevitable conflicts presents themselves organically with stripped-down tension and a discomfort level that causes the audience to squirm and giggle as though they were watching a bad Saw sequel. Only instead of torture porn, we have the high drama of love and romance, with its challenges and hangups as well as its heartbreaks and vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, the entire narrative plays out with as much unsaid as said, as each character paws lightly at the concept of “There’s nothing technically wrong with this…right?”

But obviously there is, and it’s that relentless dissonance that gives this quiet indie its shiver, and its sting.

Grade: B+

Read Full Post »

02_8X10

To put it simply: I suck at dating.

There’s any number of factors that contribute to my failure, such as my introversion, my social anxiety and my general disdain for everyone and everything. But even so, at the end of the day I don’t have any glaring facial scars, I’m educated, I’m employed, I bathe and floss regularly, but I’m really bad at meeting people.

You’ve all heard the cliched “definition of insanity” and as much as that little pillow-case quip irritates me (to no end) it has a point. In 26 years of existence I’ve had a whopping two girlfriends, both of whom lasted not-quite-three months. Time for a change to the old status quo.

So, since I’m a 21st century man in a 21st century world, I relented and did something I swore I would never, ever do.

I joined an online dating website. Actually, I joined two.

First, I dipped my toe into the waters of modern romance by signing up for OkCupid, because it’s free. That was roughly four months ago and, to put it lightly, I don’t have much to show for it.

Then with the new year approaching I decided that fortune favors the bold (and also, that I needed something to fill the void left by A Quarter Century) so on January 1, 2013 I actually paid money, real money, to join a niche dating website.

Because of the unique disclosure circumstances that accompany my profession I can’t tell you precisely what website I joined, suffice to say that I tried to pick one where I would potentially encounter the kinds of people who are most like myself (hint: It’s not J-Date, although I have a friend who did very well there).

It really is too bad that I can’t tell you, because a lot of the potential comedy of this experiment is the absolutely bat-crap crazy shenanigans specific to this particular online dating service, and the bat-crap crazy clientele it serves. I can only hope that my vague references come close to capturing the madness.

For example.

Every dating website has some messaging feature, and this one is no different, so that you can strike up a private conversation with a potential lover and gauge your interest without the terror of meeting up IRL (that’s online-dating lingo for “In Real Life”. See how quick I’m catching on?). BUT, not only is this website’s mail server (which you pay for, remember) vastly inferior to OkCupid, Gmail, or even freaking Hotmail, this site also utilizes something called “Flirts” which are like Facebook pokes (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is, you really shouldn’t) that come in fun, flirty shapes. Essentially, it’s like the sparkly sticker that a fourth-grade girl attaches to a “Do You Like Me? Check yes, check no” note before slipping it under her desk to the boy sitting behind her who puts wadded paper into her hair when she’s not looking.

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 10.32.28 AM

Yes, we’re all adults here, some of us very-much-so, and yet we’re apparently supposed to send these to each other. And you can’t tell from this screenshot, but some of them are animated gifs for EXTRA special emphasis.

But that’s not all.

When you date online, it is customary to fill out some sort of website-sponsored survey that is then used to match you to other people via computer algorithm and also let your suitors know a little bit more about you. They ask you about your political views, religious affiliation, hopes, dreams, willingness to sleep with someone on the first date, etc.

On THIS site, for reasons I can’t quite explain, every third question is designed to gauge whether or not your apartment is messy. I get that for some people, tidiness could be a deal-breaker, but I apparently did not realize how key an issue this was for [niche group I can’t disclose] and the lengths to which people will go to in hiding their sloppy habits from the online world. Furthermore, I wasn’t aware that asking someone 17 times if they’re messy will bring out the truth like a silver bullet.

The other problem, I’m now beginning to realize, is that unless I’m willing to open my search parameters to encompass all of North America, I’ve pretty much seen, in less than three weeks, every fish in this sea. This is unfortunate because A) like McKayla Maroney, I am not impressed and B) I saved $16 by paying for 6 months in advance.

Also, since this particular website caters to a niche clientele (Hint: it’s not SeekingArrangement) I have literally, LITERALLY, a 100% compatibility rating with every, single, female user that pops up on my screen.

But…I press on. As any good researcher of the human condition, I have set personal quotas to make sure I maximize the potential gain from this experience. In theory, I’m going to send a message to at least one new person each week and, in increasingly less-likely theory, meet one person IRL each month beginning in March (I am NOT dealing with Valentine’s day. No sir).

I’ve managed to send my obligatory one message each week. But as for receiving I’ve so far accumulated three flirts and two messages, one of which is from a girl who followed me from OKCupid. I’m not sure how I feel about that last bit, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like it.

Other quick thoughts, there’s a lot of people without profile pictures. Really? Listen honey, I know that one of the appeals of online dating is that you can get to know a person’s interests and hobbies before you meet them, but that doesn’t change the fact that the only thing anyone cares about is what you look like. That’s just life, babe, especially on the internet.

And man alive, you would not believe the awkward profile pictures. This is your one chance to grab the attention of your potential life partner. Is appearing with your cat really the most strategic choice? Or that photo of you in full stage makeup and wig for some community production of Seussical? You’re profile says you’re not interested in just another hookup but the mirror shot of your cleavage would suggest otherwise.

Also, when you don’t have a picture on this particular site (Hint: It’s not HotOrNot) then you are given the silhouette of a large, androgynous mass that comes across as very threatening. I received a smiley face flirt from one such amorphous blob. I did not respond in kind but I suppose it was nice to read that Username_here is happy with her life and her job. It’s tough for faceless people to find work these days.

So, this is my life now. Instead of looking for love out and about in the bright, exciting world, I’m lurking amongst the creepers and sex criminals in the dark recesses of the world wide web. It really is a brave new world, isn’t it?  Check back every month as I chronicle my slow descent into madness.

Oh yeah, the picture at the top of this post? That’s my profile pic. What do we think? Does it portray that I’m a professional who enjoys the outdoors and WON’T make a suit out of your skin?

Read Full Post »

You might not have noticed, but a few interesting things happened with the announcement of the 2013 Academy Award Nominations this morning.

First, the academy all-but-confirmed that ‘Lincoln‘ will be named best picture.

Second, the awards race that remains in the sliver of doubt that Lincoln not take the big prize went from being a head-to-head horse race between the aforementioned Spielberg-directed biopic and Zero Dark Thirty to a David and Goliath match-up between ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’

Why?

In failing to nominate Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director, the Academy showed that enough voters are uncomfortable with the Zero’s controversial portrayal of torture to impede its chances at winning the big prize. Likewise the snub of ‘Argo’-director Ben Affleck made the critically-lauded thriller deflate so fast you could practically feel the wind on your face.

But then, from the decimated ashes of its snubbed peers came Silver Linings, emerging majestically like a phoenix. Too much? Hardly!

SLP, my #2 movie of 2012 and little-film-that-could managed to dance its way into all four acting categories, best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay. For a movie without fantasy elements – and therefore not requiring heavy effects editing – that’s pretty much a straight sweep.

So yes, Lincoln, Spielberg and Day-Lewis are now essentially foregone conclusions but SLP is the underdog to root for in those categories and it also stands a fair shot in its remaining nods, particularly (the gorgeous) Jennifer Lawrence for best actress.

Other notables form this morning:

• Thanks to Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild, we now have the Oldest and Youngest women ever nominated for best actress in the same year (Emmanuelle Riva is 85 and Quvenzhané Wallis is 9. NINE!). Also, the Best Actress race is now the one to watch because Silver Lining’s surge, coupled with Zero Dark’s fall and sprinkled with the absence of Meryl Streep makes this, truly, any woman’s game.

• Interestingly, Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for Best Actor despite insulting the awards process mere weeks ago. Voters tend to not appreciate that. Also, his co-star Philip Seymore Hoffmon was nominated for best SUPPORTING actor, when an argument could be made that he is the lead character (the movie is named after him for one thing…or is it?).

• Not surprising, but Hugh Jackman scored a nomination for Les Miz with no such love for Russel Crowe. Same story with Naomi Watts (nominated) and Impossible co-star Ewen McGregor (not nominated).

And my only true complaint of the 2013 nominations:

• Wes Anderson’s magical and amazing Moonrise Kingdom deserves the 9th spot on the Best Picture list instead of Life of Pi. I’m also surprised Django Unchained made the cut.

Here’s the full list of nominees, including the boring stuff no one cares about.

Best Picture
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Original Screenplay
Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin,
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

Best Animated Feature:
Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

Best Cinematography
Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained, Robert Richardson
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall, Roger Deakins

Best Costume Design
Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables, Paco Delgado
Lincoln, Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror, Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood

Best Documentary Feature
5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary Short
Inocente
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart
Redemption

Best Film Editing
Argo, William Goldenberg
Life of Pi, Tim Squyres
Lincoln, Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty, Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg

Best Foreign Language Film
Amour, Austria
Kon-Tiki, Norway
No, Chile
A Royal Affair, Denmark
War Witch, Canada

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Hitchcock, Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane
Les Misérables, Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell

Best Original Score
Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli
Argo, Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
Lincoln, John Williams
Skyfall, Thomas Newman

Best Original Song
“Before My Time” from Chasing Ice, music and lyric by J. Ralph
“Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from Ted, music by Walter Murphy; lyric by Seth MacFarlane
“Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi, music by Mychael Danna; lyric by Bombay Jayashri
“Skyfall” from Skyfall, music and lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
“Suddenly” from Les Misérables, music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil

Best Production Design
Anna Karenina, Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, production Design: Dan Hennah; Set Decoration: Ra Vincent and Simon Bright
Les Misérables, Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Anna Lynch-Robinson
Life of Pi, Production Design: David Gropman; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Lincoln, Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

Best Animated Short
Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole
Head over Heels
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
Paperman

Best Live Action Short
Asad
Buzkashi Boys
Curfew
Death of a Shadow
Henry

Best Sound Editing
Argo, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn
Django Unchained, Wylie Stateman
Life of Pi, Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton
Skyfall, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers
Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N.J. Ottosson

Best Sound Mixing
Argo, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia
Les Misérables, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes
Life of Pi, Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin
Lincoln, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins
Skyfall, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson

Best Visual Effects
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White
Life of Pi, Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott
The Avengers, Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick
Prometheus, Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley and Martin Hill
Snow White and the Huntsman, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould and Michael Dawson

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »