The Kidd here...
With everyone making their way to the airport to hightail it out of Park City now that this year's Sundance Film Festival has wrapped, we're getting a handful more of reviews coming in from those who were in attendance this year. They managed to brave the frigid air and get those gloves off long enough to send over their thoughts on everything from Drake Doremus' latest BREATHE IN, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut DON JON'S ADDITION, Lynn Shelton's TOUCHY FEELY, SWEETWATER (which stars January Jones and Ed Harris), James Ponsoldt's THE SPECTACULAR NOW, THE LOOK OF LOVE, Shane Carruth's much anticipated UPSTREAM COLOR and THE WAY, WAY BACK.
nomimes and Uncle B(ukkake) have been around Utah for a few days taking in a whole bunch of flicks, so let's hear a bit of their perspective, starting with nomimes, because it always feels fair to let the person with the most thumbs go first.
Call me "nomimes":
Breathe In is a movie from Drake Doremus, winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Like Crazy. This film explores the themes of settling for a life you didn't think you would have and the passion that was in one's life and then fades away. This story is not wholly believable although well portrayed by skilled actors such as Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones. Pearce played the role well but you never walk away believing he was once a passionate artist. You mostly sympathize with him because of his downer and nag of a wife played by Amy Ryan. Their daughter played by Mackenzie Davis is just too tall and lanky to be taken seriously as a high school student and it is quite distracting.
Thrown into this family is the beautiful Felicity Jones. She appears as an exchange student from England visiting to take piano lessons at the school where Pearce is a teacher. Instantly her beauty and ability strike a chord in the sleepy Pearce's character and it awakens the passion he has missed.
Trying to convince his wife to move back to the city falls flat and it is then that Pearce's character turns to Jones' for the missing parts. Nothing gets too lurid between them but you can guess where it will lead. Everything blows up in the end and life is left passionless and accepted.
I give this movie 2 thumbs up and would recommend it as a rental for sure.
Don Jon's Addiction is written, directed by and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This film depicts addiction, it's meaning and redemption through the use of pornography, light violence and comedy. Seems like a weird mix I know.
Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a Jersey-ish character who can't seem to find a woman to satisfy himself mentally and physically like he gets watching pornography. Even when he brings home a supposed "10" played by Scarlett Johansen, he still needs the porn to feel satisfied. When confronted about this behavior Jon swears off the porn to keep Johansen's character from leaving him but simply changes tactic. Eventually she breaks up with him over it. In steps Julianne Moore as an older student and after a few missteps her character and Jon begin a meaningless affair. One day during their activities, she challenges him to give up porn. He tries to and has a hard time with it (pun). The catalyst comes from Moore who talks to him about why porn is a one-sided disconnected feeling. Additionally she indicates that Johansen's character had a similar mentality because she expected to be treated like a queen. I do not want to trivialize what happens but the redemption is apparent rather quickly with Jon realizing that in order to feel the way he expects he needs to loose himself in his partner which leads to a healthy relationship.
I give this film 4 thumbs up. Enjoy it in a theater when it comes out in July with some friends who can handle the concept of porn. This film was purchased for $4 million and has a $25 million marketing commitment. I wonder how the ratings board will rate this and if it gets as wide a release as Gordon-Levitt expects.
Touchy Feely: First of all let's get something straight. This movie featured Ron Livingston and Ellen Page. The only problem is that Ron Livingston was in it for all of maybe 30 seconds (probably more like 15mins). Ellen Page had a lot of screen time, but she did not have a very deep part.
As far as I can tell, this movie was about transformation of two people. The two people were brothers and sisters. The brother was socially inept which was awkward to watch, the sister new age junkie of sorts that was going through a wierd rebound.
This easily could've been one of three possible movies. Definitely three things going on. The parts with Ellen Page are ok, her character is odd to begin with and I found myself snickering a few times because I knew what was coming. Without giving anything away - she tries to hit on her aunts boyfriend.
I give this movie a single thumb up out of four. Netflix anyone? Raik'ii!!!!
Sweetwater is simply a movie about revenge with some racism and religion added. As a gimmick for a Sundance premier, old style Mormonism - complete with polygamy - was used.
January Jones gives a flat performance - she did smile sincerely a few times - but generally is not noteworthy other than a topless scene. AND SHE IS THE FEATURED CHARACTER! Ed Harris steals his scenes as a crazy grizzled lawman. We never really know if he is legit or not but he really adds a crazy randomness that definitely helps the movie. Jason Issacs does a great job as well - psychotic prophet seeing women and land.
I gave this movie only one thumb up because of Harris and Issacs. I might give it a higher one but I was under impressed with January Jones' assets - after X-Men: First Class I expected more.
Upstream Color is the second feature film of Shane Carruth. It boils down to an analysis of a circular chain of events that get thrown off course by the two leads meeting.
It is a hard movie to talk about because a lot of what you see is visual with a strange music behind it. The entire time I was watching it, my attention was held - which is good considering the long swaths of no dialog. I felt this easily could have been an X-Files movie if you only add in a few scenes of Mulder and Scully. A bit of sci-fi meets NCIS is a fair description. The lead actress was very striking inner performance and although Carruth acts, writes and directs - I would suggest he stay behind the camera instead of in front of it as he has an inconsistent delivery.
I give this movie three thumbs up out of four.
The Spectacular Now: This film starts out like any teen movie with introductions to the cool kid and his girlfriend. Parties, booze, sex - it's there and set up in such a way to make you already loathe these kids. This of course is done on purpose to allow the viewer to witness the growth and redemption of the main lead character Sutter, played by Miles Teller. This could be classified as a coming of age story for Sutter - growing up without a father, feeling unloved from those around him, and coming to terms with his alcoholism to ultimately appreciate and recognize he is worthy of being loved and just couldn't recognize the love given by others.
In this film the main catalyst for his change is presented in the form of the beautiful and endearing Aimee, played by the capable and sincere Shailene Woodley of "The Descendants". She has grown her craft since that movie and her wonder, innocence, charm and love are very clearly communicated in a masterful sense to the audience. Aimee loves Sutter - Sutter loves Aimee in his own way. Aimee can see the greatness in Sutter even when the audience cannot. She gives herself to him with innocence maintained even through some horrible scenes where her character is clearly slighted.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is unremarkable and even more so unrecognizable. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is briefly present and clearly emotionally challenged as Sutter. Kyle Chandler plays his part extremely well as Sutters absent addict father - a far meatier role than in this years "zero dark thirty". Brie Larson is in the movie sporadically as Sutters ex girlfriend and although her role is small - it too is important to help Sutter realize his flaws and change.
The ending of the movie can be interpreted in many ways. I found myself arguing with my buddy about the meaning. You might as well - you are able to project all you know, or think you. Know, onto Sutter and Aimee to provide closure how you see fit.
I give this film four thumbs up - a definite must see!
Alright, Uncle B(ukkake)... you caught a couple of the same movies. What're your thoughts?
Uncle B(ukkake) here with reviews of the remaining flicks I watched at this year's festival:
"The Spectacular Now" is a terrific meditation on adolescence and all of the uncertainty, fear, bravado, and pain that accompany youth. This film is from the director of "Smashed" and the writers of "500 Days of Summer" - both excellent films which made this a "must see" for me at the festival. I was initially disappointed that this film centered around Sutter Keely (played quite effectively by Miles Teller), who is completely self-absorbed and jerky. Director James Ponsoldt expects this initial reaction from the audience and uses it to his advantage. Once Sutter meets Aimee Finicky (an amazing Shailene Woodley) - in a memorable introduction - we recognize that there are deeper (albeit torn) layers to Sutter that were not immediately apparent. Although the audience is as skeptical of Sutter's intentions with Aimee as their respective friends (and there is reason for this apprehension), they do successfully act as a necessary catalyst for each other. Their misadventures include an extended sequence with Sutter's father that is ultimately transcendent. Another exceptional scene involves Sutter's boss, played by the always dependable Bob Odenkirk, which is so simple in execution but revelatory of Sutter's growth. Shailene Woodley has the less showy role, but emerges as a major talent (following "The Descendants"). Her blind devotion to Sutter is heartbreaking - particularly during a great scene following her prom. Shailene's final shot in the movie is reminiscent of the closing shot in "The Graduate" and will divide audiences as to its ultimate intention (although I think the physical gestures give it away). James Ponsoldt is the real deal - a director I will be following.
"Don Jon's Addiction" is the first time feature from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also plays the lead, Jon Martello. Similar to Sutter's introduction, Jon is initially portrayed as nothing more than an arrogant simpleton. Jon is a Jersey boy, hitting up clubs, chasing girls, and watching an unhealthy (is there such a thing?) amount of online pornography. The script, also from Gordon-Levitt, surprisingly manages to mine lots of comedy from this premise, and Gordon-Levitt shows definite promise as both a writer and director. Gordon-Levitt is clearly fascinated with how society and media influence/shape our personalities, actions, and mannerisms. I laughed quite a bit during this movie, especially during Jon's family dinners (Tony Danza, as Jon's father, is terrific). Esther (Julianne Moore, always interesting) is key to Jon's transformation, but the final act is just not as powerful as the "punch" delivered by "The Spectacular Now." "Don Jon's Addiction" will be a difficult sell to mainstream audiences (given the subject matter), not to mention the ratings board, but Gordon-Levitt has a unique and honest voice behind the camera. Uncle B approves.
Speaking of "The Descendants," "The Way, Way Back" is an uneven comedy from two of the three writers of that movie. This "coming of age" flick concentrates on Duncan (Liam James), a teenager dealing with divorce and a miserable summer vacation with his mom (Toni Collette, underutilized) and "new dad" (Steve Carrell, playing a completely underdeveloped and nasty character). This movie felt fragmented from the outset. The family sequences are melodramatic and predictable. By contrast, the water park scenes, wherein Duncan escapes the aforementioned family drama, are whimsical, clever, and (most importantly) very entertaining - especially once Duncan meets Owen (a never better Sam Rockwell). Liam James has far less screen charisma than Miles Teller, but his interactions with Sam Rockwell are worth the price of admission. Sam Rockwell needs to be in many more movies.
"Sweetwater" is a revenge tale set in the Old West. Sarah (January Jones, as dry and wooden as ever) plays a newlywed seeking revenge when her new husband is murdered by the town's "prophet," Josiah (Jason Isaacs, who wonderfully chews up every scene he inhabits). There is nothing memorable about this movie other than the supporting role from Ed Harris, who plays Sheriff Jackson with a "tongue and cheek" gusto as he pieces together the numerous murder mysteries that plague this town.
"The Look of Love" is a curious biopic of Paul Raymond, who created the first "gentleman's club" in England in the late 1950's. I am a fan of Steve Coogan's prior work. However, his portrayal of Paul Raymond is puzzling in that he never seems to delve below the surface of Paul's obsessions with sex, fame, and wealth. Even the sequences between Paul and his daughter (who appears to be the only person that consistently remained in his life) are less moving than I expected. Paul Raymond is not particularly interesting as a character study, and this type of material has already been handled far more effectively in "The People v. Larry Flynt." A definite disappointment.
I was also not impressed with the latest features from two Sundance "darlings" - Lynn Shelton ("Touchy Feely") and Drake Doremus ("Breathe In"). "Touchy Feely" is a character study of a brother, Paul (a dentist played by Josh Pais) and sister, Abby (a massage therapist played by Rosemarie DeWitt). Abby, the free spirit, loses the desire for bodily contact, while Paul develops the ability to heal his patients of various ailments. Lynn Shelton's apparent exploration of "identity crisis" was lost on me, but the movie does include a strong supporting performance from Ellen Page (playing Paul's daughter), who suffers a crisis of her own that is far more compelling and believable than either lead character. I had a slightly more positive reaction to "Breathe In," but the subject matter (Guy Pearce suffers a midlife crisis and falls for Felicity Jones, a British exchange student who is staying with his family for a semester) was a major turnoff and proved tedious after the first act. There is no question that Drake Doremus is a talented director but this script was far too concerned with the prurient details of the aforementioned indiscretions than any rationale for the behavior.
Which brings us to "Upstream Color," the technically accomplished but narratively obtuse film from director Shane Carruth. His last film, "Primer" won the grand jury prize at Sundance, but his latest flick is sure to polarize audiences. There is no denying that Shane Carruth is an artist. His new film attempts to explore memory and mind control, as well as the various ways that memory can be manipulated, stolen, repressed, or lost. However, this film left me utterly frustrated and with more questions than answers (which was perhaps the point). That said, there are enough inspired sequences and powerful images throughout this mind bender for me to ultimately recommend this film. Moreover, lead actress, Amy Seimetz (playing Kris) is a revelation. Even when Shane Carruth has the audience scratching its collective head, Amy Seimetz's performance is captivating. This is a film I will revisit.
There you have it. Quite a few films to keep an eye out for in the coming months, even if you must settle going through life with only a pair of thumbs to your name...
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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