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.
There are plenty of tropes in independent cinema that can make any film festival a trying experience from time to time. Broken and estranged families, suicide, coming-of-age, these are all familiar themes in films we've seen at the Sundance Film Festival time and time again. But sometimes the right assembly of talent and a great script can make these elements feel fresh again. The Skeleton Twins is one of those films with a superb blend of laugh out loud comedy, and heartbreaking drama. "Saturday Night Live" veterans Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader lead the film, and this is truly a revelation in each of their careers. Read on!
While controversy still stirs around the fact that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp remains open after a promise to close from our Commander in Chief, graphic designer turned writer/director Peter Sattler attempts to pour salt on the wound with Camp X-Ray. The film follows a young female soldier (Kristen Stewart) newly positioned at the infamous detainee (we don't call them prisoners to avoid upholding the Geneva Convention) camp. As the superior officer explains, the soldiers' responsibility isn't to keep these detainees locked up, it's to keep them alive. And it's one of the most monotonous jobs the military offers.
Take the director of The American starring George Clooney and source material from iconic author John Le Carre, the man who wrote Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and you've got a gorgeously shot, quiet, slow-burning spy thriller. A Most Wanted Man takes a team of off the grid German intelligence spies, reminiscent of the Impossible Mission Force without all the bells and whistles, and contrasts them with the impatient American government agencies who just want someone to blame for any sort of terrorist activity. But the plot at the center of this thriller from director Anton Corbijn isn't an impending terrorist attack. Read on!
What a way to kick off the Sundance Film Festival. One of the Opening Night films this year is Whiplash, a kick ass feature version of a short film that filmmaker Damien Chazelle premiered at Sundance last year. The story is about an up-and-coming drummer named Andrew, played by Miles Teller, who is studying at a prestigious school for music in New York. He comes under the watch of one of the most hardcore teachers there, played by J.K. Simmons, who attempts to train and drill him to be one of the best drummers to ever play. The film is an intense study on passion and believing in your own talent, and never being discouraged.
There is a wealth of story in the collection of Tom Clancy novels featuring his number one lead, Jack Ryan. Some of film’s best espionage stories star the CIA analyst-turned-field-agent. Yet, the output these novels have given the film world has just as many misses as hits, and those misses are getting wider off the mark. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is Hollywood’s latest attempt at turning the character into a franchise name, and its tame, formulaic, and dulled results mark the weakest Jack Ryan adventure the character has seen to date. At least it’s loud and fast, which may fool some into thinking there’s some substance. Read on!