While attending a film festival it's always exciting to hear buzz about films that may not have been on our radar before. One film in particular at Sundance 2014 that I kept hearing my colleagues raving about was actually a documentary, one called The Overnighters. It took a little while but I finally caught up with the film after the fest and was so taken aback, so impressed and surprised and genuinely moved by what I saw, I couldn't help but write about it. Overnighters is a refreshingly modern documentary, an utterly compelling, nuanced film that precariously balances the big questions of one of the great dilemmas of this day and age.
Jason Reitman is a filmmaker in love with relationships. Whether its a young pregnant woman's relationship with the couple who will adopt her unborn child or the relationship between a young adult writer and the people that she utterly despises, these connections are the driving force behind his films' respective emotions. Labor Day, his latest, is right in line with the rest. In terms of the driving force, that is. The results are varied, but a pair of powerhouse performances keeps Labor Day from being the too-simple-with-too-much-saccharine film it threatens to be. Trashy at times, very messy at others, it's a bag of mixed results, all the while wanting nothing more than to have tears streaming down your face. Read on!
With the topic being so controversial, who would have thought that a romantic comedy with abortion at the center of the story would be so damn charming and irresistible. Obvious Child hails from Gillian Robespierre, turning her short film of the same name into a feature length film with "Saturday Night Live" veteran Jenny Slate playing the same role, a twentysomething who finds herself with an unexpected pregnancy after a one night stand with a kind, alluring stranger (Jake Lacy of "The Office"). The familiar meet-cute that would normally drive a generic romantic comedy is made engaging with the abortion focus.
This film can be best described as a (literally) colorful serial killer film starring Ryan Reynolds as a guy who talks with his pets and kills people. Yep, it's already WTF based on that alone, but the film itself - whoa. Marjane Satrapi's The Voices is a film that I'm intrigued even exists with the story it has along with such an impressive cast to boot. I'm honestly not sure if I was amused and entertained or completely horrified watching it. During my screening at Sundance, heaps of moviegoers walked out the moment it started to get bloody. And damn does this film get bloody. But it's also funky and deviously enjoyable, if that's your thing.
First of all, let's be clear that I hate the term "rom-com" because it's such a silly industry abbreviation, as if no one in Hollywood has time for words (though that's evident by the quality of scripts that get turned into movies, but I'm getting away from myself). But the headline needed to fit and be clear: Comedian, writer and director David Wain, and his "Stella" cohort Michael Showalter, have created the perfect parody of romantic comedies with They Came Together. This time, Wain brings Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd (two bit players from the stellar Wet Hot American Summer) together for a meet-cute, with all the cliches.
Time to take a hilarious trip back to the 80's. Imagine time traveling back to Sundance 1985 and catching the premiere of a coming of age film set around ping pong in Ocean City, Maryland. That's what Ping Pong Summer is like, and they nail the cliches, cheesiness and stereotypes of the 80's, but in the right way. The kind of way that it makes you laugh and smile and feel nostalgic yet also feel kind of happy that we don't live in this time anymore. The story is simple but sweet, and heartfelt but entertaining, the perfect throwback to a time past without iPhones or the internet, but with pixie sticks, foam parties and yes, of course, ping pong.
Pretty much every year now there seems to be some kind of new take on the zombie subgenre. Last year it was Warm Bodies, and this year, director Jeff Baena tries to reverse that story with the comedy Life After Beth. The film follows Dane DeHaan as Zach, a teen positively devastated after his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) dies after being bitten by a snake while hiking alone. So when DeHaan discovers that Beth is alive again and being hidden by her parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), he's enraged, confused, and then enamored with a second chance at love; that is until she shows uncharacteristically powerful strength, her flesh starts deteriorating, she can't focus, and her moods swing violently. Read on!
In this vibrant and ever-expanding world of cinema, it's rare that we ever get to experience something truly incredible in its concept and execution, something so amazing that it pushes an entire genre to new heights. That happened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday night, as Gareth Evans' premiered his 2-1/2 hour sequel The Raid 2, and I believe he's pulled off something akin to The Dark Knight of action movies. It is a sequel that is much bigger, more ambitious, and considerably more epic in scope than the first, yet exceeds all expectations and achieves levels of legend in terms of martial arts action intertwined with story.
Throughout the many years of the Sundance Film Festival, a handful of outstanding, original, indie science fiction films have premiered here - Cube, Primer, Donnie Darko and Sound of My Voice to name a few. One of the next new awesome sci-fi creations to make its mark at Sundance is called The Signal, not related to the anthology horror film of the same name which also played at this festival a few years ago. Directed by up-and-comer William Eubank (follow him @superswift), The Signal is a thrilling, keep-you-guessing sci-fi action thriller that is more more gripping and entertaining that I could have ever imagined.
Last spring, the cinephile community and film industry lost the legendary film critic Roger Ebert. But thankfully, he leaves behind a legacy of profound film criticism and inspiration for generations of aspiring filmmakers, writers and more. While a film called Russ & Roger Go Beyond will follow the friendship between filmmaker Russ Meyer and Ebert while working on the film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for Fox in the late 1960s, the newly premiered documentary Life Itself talks about that time in Ebert's career, but more importantly, focuses on the man himself, his passion for film, and love of life and those closest to him.
Back at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, "Scrubs" star Zach Braff got behind the camera for his directorial debut with an indie called Garden State. In the years since, some claim that the film hasn't aged well, and has lost its flare that won over many audiences 10 years ago. Well, Braff is back behind the camera, and as someone who still enjoys his debut indie, his sophomore effort Wish I Was Here just doesn't measure up. The film stumbles in spite of Braff's charm and comedy amidst a story of self-discovery, love and family. What's truly disappointing is that the film works for awhile and then it comes tumbling down.
Richard Linklater's time capsule has been opened. For the last 12 years, director Richard Linklater (who brought Before Midnight to Sundance last year) has been quietly filming an ambitious project chronicling the life of a young boy growing up in Texas. The project, now complete after 12 years, is titled Boyhood and follows Ellar Coltrane as Mason, from age 6 to age 18, most of his youth, up until graduation and his departure to college. It's a grand, beautiful, intimate essay on growing up, without spending too much time on the big milestones, and instead focusing on one of the most important values of life: seize the moment.
Last year, student debt in the United States hit a milestone $1 trillion, with no signs of slowing down as admission and tuition are steadily increasing and have been for decades. Enter director Andrew Rossi (Page One: Inside the New York Times) and his documentary Ivory Tower, which looks at the inefficiency and shortcomings in university education, more specifically, the lack of government funding causing a rise in tuittion, but also the unwise spending on amenities that seem to hinder, more than bolster, their students' education, and the quality of it too. While the documentary seems one-sided to the point of beating a dead horse for the first half, it does move into more neutral and analytical territory. More below!
Do you believe in science? Or do you believe in God? In today's age of technology, how does one convince the other? These are the questions that I Origins, the second sci-fi film from Mike Cahill (at Sundance 2011 with Another Earth), attempts to address in delicate ways. It's a breathtaking, chilling, beautiful film that wraps a love story around a scientific attempt to disprove the existence of God, but where does it lead? Does it answer questions? That's not the point. It's a film that makes you think, makes you consider your own beliefs, even if just for a second. Because when that moment comes, if you feel chills, it has done its job.