“The year is 1985. Rad Miracle is a shy, 13-year-old white kid obsessed with two things: Ping-Pong and hip-hop.” That’s the first sentence of the Sundance description of Ping Pong Summer, a new film by writer/director Michael Tully. The instant I read that, I had to see the film. It just so happened that the screening was my final film of the festival. I couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate send-off. The film blends sports and coming of age traditions, wrapped in Eighties nostalgia, resulting in a sweet, funny film that just feels right. Read More »
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Maybe this is the Twilight Zone, where mundane beginnings lead to extraordinary situations. In The One I Love, a married couple played by Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass are having problems. Nothing outlandish, just garden-variety issues such as resentment, boredom, and an erosion of respect. So: off to couples therapy. Their analyst advocates a retreat which, he promises, has worked wonders for many others.
What happens next is… well, something people associated with the film have tried to keep quiet. Frankly, that’s a bit absurd, as the material in question is the premise of the film, not a spoiler. Trailers will eventually give some of it up. But I’ll play along, because doing so is a fun exercise.
To be circumspect: This isn’t a romantic comedy, nor a weepy drama. Unusual, clever, and bitterly funny, The One I Love seeks to expose the impulses that can stall a relationship, or foster growth. While the idea’s deepest potential is not exploited, Duplass and Moss — very nearly the only actors in the movie — perform with nicely-pitched intensity and utter command of their craft. If this had premiered earlier in the Sundance schedule it might have become the must-see film of the fest; the late debut doesn’t change the fact that it is among this year’s early standouts. Read More »
The opening scene of John Michael McDonagh‘s Calvary is a frightening juxtaposition that perfectly sets the tone for what’s to come. Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is taking confession from a mysterious man who admits to being molested by a priest as a child. Not this specific priest, though, another one, and to get revenge he tells Father James he’s going to kill him for no good reason. In an instant, McDonagh has sucked the audience in.
Much like McDonagh and Gleeson’s previous film The Guard, Calvary is wholly original. It blends elements of mystery, a detective story and comedy with lots of philosophical ruminations. As Father James spends what might be his final week alive dealing with the townspeople, one of which is his would-be murderer, he tries to solve the riddle by delving into their problems (alcoholism, depression, adultery, etc) through his Catholic beliefs. The result is an ambitious, slow-burn drama with dynamite performances from top to bottom that just misses the mark because it’s trying to do too much. Read More »
Everyone knows Kurt Russell as one of his generation’s most recognizable and badass actors. Some might even know that he was once a professional athlete. What most people don’t know, however, is that Russell’s father, Bing Russell, was even more eclectic. A famous actor in his own right, the elder Russell eventually used his Hollywood fame to start an independent minor league baseball team called the Portland Mavericks.
That incredible story acts as the epicenter of The Battered Bastards of Baseball, a documentary that premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Co-directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way (Two of Bing Russell’s grandsons), it’s a fascinating and fun look at one of baseball’s hidden and heartwarming stories. Read More »
The Signal is the kind of science fiction movie that I love — intense, mysterious, original and extremely ambitious. What is The Signal? It’s a puzzle that keeps you guessing and working to figure it out.
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Most everyone has been through a breakup that took place for a reason, but still left at least one person pining for a chance to do things over. Life After Beth seems as if it wants to be a zombie-filled fable exploring that situation. Dane DeHaan is Zach, whose relationship with Beth (Aubrey Plaza) dies along with her. But Zach gets a second chance with Beth when she returns home, seemingly alive — only to find that she is quickly losing whatever shreds of humanity she had left.
Not only does Life After Beth offer a confused and somewhat gross take on relationships, it wastes a great comic cast (Matthew Gray Gubler, Cheryl Hines, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, and Anna Kendrick) with comedy that is as sloppy as splattered brains. Read More »
Obvious Child is a charming romantic dramedy about love and abortion in New York City. The humor feels like a mix of the crudeness and sharp teeth of Sarah Silverman’s comedy and the grounded snappiness of Lena Dunham’s Girls. At center stage is comedian Jenny Slate, with one of the breakthrough performances of this year’s fest.
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There’s one really good reason to see the German film Wetlands, and her name is Carla Juri. She’s a firecracker; I keep hearing people refer to her as “the German Greta Gerwig,” and the comparison is easy to see. But Juri has her own skills and appeal, and her performance is the most watchable one I’ve seen so far at Sundance this year.
That’s saying something, as the subject matter of Wetlands can be… off-putting. The story hinges on — and there’s no delicate way to put this — an anal fissure suffered by Juri’s character Helen during a grooming session gone wrong. Helen is a young woman who has an unusually deep body consciousness; she’s more intimately in touch with her body than any young woman in a recent film. While she’s a prat clearly damaged by her parents’ divorce, Helen is still a promising, even inspiring character. By the end, however, Wetlands throws away her potential in favor of a too-familiar quirky love story.
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