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<p>Josh Pais and Allison Janney stumble upon an unexpected connection in Lynn Shelton's 'Touchy Feely,' part of this year's Sundance Film&nbsp;Festival.</p>

Josh Pais and Allison Janney stumble upon an unexpected connection in Lynn Shelton's 'Touchy Feely,' part of this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Review: Great ensemble cast makes Lynn Shelton's 'Touchy Feely' a gentle generous new age charmer

Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston, Allison Janney, and Ellen Page head a great group of actors

PARK CITY - When I saw "Humpday" at Sundance, I thought it was a smart and funny little movie, and I ended up reviewing it when the film finally opened in limited release.  "Your Sister's Sister" was here last year, and I was really smitten with that one.  It felt like there was an exponential jump from film to film by Lynn Shelton as a storyteller, and I wasn't surprised to hear that she had a new film here this year.  Sundance obviously likes her work, and why not?  When her films are at their best, they represent the exact sort of adult emotional honesty that I find most appealing in a modern filmmaker.

When Judd Apatow talks about letting his cast improvise, people immediately imagine comic actors lobbing one-liners at each other in an effort to steal each scene.  In Shelton's films, the improvisation is more about grounding the needs of the story in language that is natural and unforced.  Shelton's work is often funny, and I think she falls in love with her characters and loves to indulge them in the choices she makes about which take to use of certain scenes.  But she is also capable of crafting an emotional moment that carries a startling amount of heft, and "Touchy Feely" seems more concerned with exploring characters than generating laughs.  That's a good thing and there are plenty of moments in "Touchy Feely" that are simply character observation.  There is certainly a plot in the film, but it's delivered in a way that never feels mechanical.  Things unfold on their own schedule, and when the film finally reaches a sort of crescendo, it isn't something you see coming.

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<p>Naomi Watts at the Sundance Film Festival.</p>

Naomi Watts at the Sundance Film Festival.

Watch: Naomi Watts and director Anne Fontaine on the surprising love story 'Two Mothers'

How Watts moved to 'a place of forgiveness' with a difficult character

PARK CITY - Since premiering on Friday evening, steamy romantic melodrama "Two Mothers" has been one of the most talked-about titles of this year's Sundance Film Festival -- even if it doesn't have all the critics on its side. At the screening, audience reactions ranged from stunned gasps to nervous laughter at the film's highly unorthodox relationship study.

Set in idyllic coastal Australia, the film stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as two lifelong best friends who, as they approach middle age, both find themselves sexually entangled with younger men. Well, that's burying the lede a little: the man in each case is the other woman's teenage son.

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<p>Matthew McConaughey at the 2013 Sundance Film&nbsp;Festival</p>

Matthew McConaughey at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival

Credit: Getty Images

Matthew McConaughey calls the eponymous 'Mud' an 'aristocrat of the heart'

The actor was endeared to his character's streak of romanticism

PARK CITY - In Jeff Nichols' "Mud," Matthew McConaughey tackles a truly charismatic spirit. A man of virtues, many of them at odds with themselves, the eponymous misfit is running from a dark, complex past and toward a brighter, idealized future in the film. He is a cauldron of opportunity for any actor, and McConaughey says that was very much what endeared him to Nichols' script in the first place.

In fact, Nichols had begun the project years ago in film school and had the actor in mind since day one. McConaughey smiles with pearly whites when asked about that fact. "I remember having a moment of going, 'Oh, I've been doing this acting thing for a while,'" the actor says, "'long enough where someone could have me in mind for an original script and write something. I like that.' And it was a side of me that I haven't ever really played. The guy's an adolescent. It's the dreamer side. I think we've all got it in us."

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Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Lawrence

Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Lawrence

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' – Jennifer Lawrence and The Lumineers

What will be deadlier: the arena from "The Hunger Games" or Studio 8H?

After over a month off, “Saturday Night Live” is back with recent Golden Globes winner Jennifer Lawrence as 2013’s first host. That month hopefully recharged the batteries of all involved in this show. In greater likelihood, it gave the writers the opportunity to craft the longest version of “The Californians” in history. Along for the ride tonight is musical act The Lumineers, whose song “Ho Hey” I heard no less than five times in my car today. It’s possible that I’ve been incepted by the neo-folk pop music scene, is all I’m saying.

Let’s keep track of that throughout tonight’s proceedings. As always, I’ll be live blogging the show, giving grades to each individual sketch along the way. As always, you’ll take any difference of opinion from your own as a slight that can be only answered via a pistol duel at dawn. Why should 2013 be any different from 2012?
 
Come back starting at 11:30 p.m. EST, and we’ll get this party started.
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<p>Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller of &quot;The Spectacular Now&quot;</p>

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller of "The Spectacular Now"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'The Spectacular Now' showcases Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley

'Smashed' helmer and '(500) Days of Summer' scribes deliver teen romance honestly
"The Spectacular Now," showing as part of the US Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, is a high school movie.
 
The signpost events are all there. 
 
There are booze-filled parties, a prom, a graduation, college applications, generational conflicts and budding love. 
 
Those signposts, though, are purely structural. They're load-bearing plotpoints that are used to support what is actually a revealing and emotional character study and an intense romantic relationship, in which the characters not-coincidentally happen to be teens.
 
When I walked out of "Spectacular Now," I tweeted that in recent Sundance terms, "The Spectacular Now" is "The First Time" meets "Smashed," a compliment that made a lot more sense when I remembered that "The Spectacular Now" was helmed by "Smashed" director James Ponsoldt.
 
In consecutive years, Ponsoldt has now showcased a confident ability to balance humor with emotional pain, which happens to also be a specialty of screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who broke out here a couple years back with "(500) Days of Summer." [Full disclosure requires me to mention that Neustadter and I served as arts section editors together at the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper back in the day.] That combination of amusement and anguish, of genre formula and freshness will leave some people scratching their heads, but it's equally likely to strike an uncomfortable [in a good way], honest chord. 
 
More after the break...
 
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<p>Ben Foster, Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan in &quot;Kill Your Darlings.&quot;</p>

Ben Foster, Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan in "Kill Your Darlings."

Review: Daniel Radcliffe shows no fear in stylish 'Kill Your Darlings'

Michael C. Hall and supporting cast stand out in Beat Generation drama

PARK CITY - The past few years have seen a number of films focus on the writers of the Beat Generation and iconic writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Keroac.  This year's entry to the growing genre is John Krokidas' "Kill Your Darlings" which debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Friday afternoon and opens the door to a historical incident which had remain mostly unchronicled for almost 60 years.

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<p>Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in &quot;Don Jon's Addiction.&quot;</p>

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Don Jon's Addiction."

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's limp sex comedy 'Don Jon's Addiction' plays like 'Shame' on Jersey Shore

Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore co-star in light-hearted tale of porn addiction

PARK CITY - Around halfway through "Don Jon's Addiction," a mildly amusing and more-than-mildly smarmy directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, protagonist Jon (Gordon-Levitt himself) takes his newly acquired girlfriend Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) out to the movies. The film is her choice: a fictitious but unmistakably insipid-looking romantic comedy titled "Special Someone," starring Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum. (Well, their faces, if not their names.) As the movie-within-a-movie ends with the couple driving into the sunset, wedding veil flapping in the breeze, Jon rolls his eyes while Barbara coos with pleasure. Walking out of the cinema, she dimly wonders aloud why real life can't replicate this marshmallow fantasy.

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<p>A$AP Rocky</p>

A$AP Rocky

Will A$AP Rocky live long and prosper atop the Billboard 200 album chart?

New set is one of two slated to enter the Top 10

A$AP Rocky’s “Long.Live.A$AP” will handily top the Billboard 200 album chart next week with projected sales of up to 150,000.

The hip-hop artist’s latest set, which features Kendrick Lamar, Santigold, Drake, 2 Chainz and more, will easily surpass the only other debut in the Top 10, the 865th volume of Kidz Bop Kids, which will come in at No. 2 with up to 70,000 copies. (OK, we admit, it’s only “Kidz Bop 23”).

The rest of the Top 10 is filled with familiar faces: The soundtrack to “Les Miserables” will be at No. 3 with 45,000 units sold, according to Hits Daily Double. Bruno Mars’ “Unorthodox Jukebox,” the soundtrack to “Pitch Perfect,” and Taylor Swift’s “Red” are all too close to call for the Nos. 4, 5, and 6 slots, with each targeted to sell between 35,000 and 40,000.

The Lumineers’ self-titled set will come in at No. 7, followed by fellow folk rockers Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” at No. 8, Phillip Phillips’ “The World From The Side Of the Moon” at No. 9 and One Direction’s “Take Me Home” at No. 10.  This week’s No. 1 title, Chris Tomlin’s “Burning Lights”  likely falls to No. 11.


 

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<p>&quot;After Tiller&quot;</p>

"After Tiller"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'After Tiller' is a human look at abortion drama

Documentary avoids sensationalism in looking at late-term procedures
In one of those only-at-Sundance double-bills, my Friday (January 18) afternoon featured the back-to-back premieres of Andy Heathcote's "The Moo Man," a World Documentary competition entry about British dairy farmer Stephen Hooks, and Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's "After Tiller," a US Documentary competition entry about the last four doctors in America performing third-trimester abortions.
 
These two films have nothing in common.
 
"The Moo Man" is an understated and simple film about a man and his cows and it ends up being a surprisingly moving story -- or, if you prefer for blurbing purposes, "a surprisingly moo-ving story" -- given that when it comes to subject matter, few viewers will enter the theater with a deep, pre-determined emotional investment. Whether you're a lover of organic, raw milk or you're lactose intolerant, "The Moo Man" probably won't have to work around any prodigious baggage. [I'm going to try to write a fuller review, but time is hard to come by.]
 
The same definitively cannot be said of "After Tiller."
 
[More after the break...]
 
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<p>Jessica Chastain in &quot;Zero&nbsp;Dark&nbsp;Thirty&quot;</p>

Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"

Credit: Sony Pictures

Jessica Chastain owns the box office in 'Mama,' 'Zero Dark Thirty' during crucial Oscar window

Rare feat could be added fuel in the campaign tank

The story of today isn't quite what's happening in Park City but what's happening at multiplexes across the country. Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is leading the charge with the top two films at the box office, Andrés Muschietti's "Mama" and Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty." That ought to put to rest any idle speculation that the former, which is decently reviewed, would somehow "Norbit" her Oscar hopes.

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<p>&quot;The Summit&quot;</p>

"The Summit"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: K2 doc 'The Summit' never quite peaks

A terrifying mountain-climbing story becomes a jumbled film
Grad school degree and decade-plus of entertainment journalism aside, there are many film industry jobs that I must confess I don't completely understand.
 
I can tell a gaffer from a grip from a best boy, but I'm not sure I could explicate the role of the "writer" on a documentary film. In some cases, it's simple, I suppose. If there's a voice-over or on-screen text, I get that somebody writes that. I don't know, though, if a writer on a documentary has a role in shaping the storytelling approach. I don't know how a documentary writer comes to be associated with multiple films that aren't connected in subject matter, production or filmmaking team. What makes somebody a good "writer" on a documentary? And what makes somebody a bad writer on a documentary?
 
I suspect it varies and that sometimes a documentary writer is just the guy providing the text that isn't coming from talking heads and that sometimes it's a more involved role. 
 
The nature of the documentary writer is one that I'm musing on today, because I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever noticed the same documentary writer's name recurring in a short span. 
 
Mark Monroe wrote Marc Silver's "Who Is Dayani Cristal?," which I reviewed after its world premiere on Thursday (January 17) night at the Sundance Film Festival. And there was Mark Monroe's name on Nick Ryan's "The Summit," which is also in the World Documentary Competition here at Sundance.
 
Again: I don't know what Mark Monroe actually did on either "The Summit" or "Who Is Dayani Cristal?" Both documentaries are examples of fantastic stories at least somewhat undermined by the storytelling approach, though neither film is undone by voiceover or on-screen text, per se. So I'm guessing that Mark Monroe isn't to blame for anything I disliked in either film, but I still wanted to think out loud on this one, since it's not something I usually notice. [Monroe also was the credited writer on "The Cove," "The Tillman Story" and "Chasing Ice," all docs I put in the "Good story, well told" category. Whatever a writer on a documentary is, Monroe appears to be successful at it.]
 
But anyway... "The Summit." Full review after the break...
 
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<p>Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner star as sisters with a dark secret in Jim Mickle's 'We Are What We Are'</p>

Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner star as sisters with a dark secret in Jim Mickle's 'We Are What We Are'

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Review: Dark family secrets drive the stylish and moody 'We Are What We Are' at Sundance midnights

Remake of a recent Mexican film plays it serious and offers strong work

Nick Damici and Jim Mickle have been working together for several films now, co-writing the films that Mickle directs, and they seem to be honing their aesthetic from film to film.  Sometimes you see a filmmaker arrive fully formed and sometimes you see a filmmaker grow from movie to movie.  In those cases, sometimes even if you don't love the movies, the growth is what's interesting, and "We Are What We Are" represents the best thing they've done together so far, no doubt about it.

From "Mulberry Street" to "Stake Land" to this latest effort, what's obvious is that they take genre seriously, and they ground the outlandish elements with an emphasis on character that one might argue is a requirement of a low budget, but that these filmmakers embrace as a virtue.  They like the slow fuse, and they are happy to save up the most shocking things in their films for a few moments instead of trying to just wear the audience down with non-stop sensation.

I haven't seen the original Mexican film, "Somos Lo Que Hay," which was released in 2010, but as I understand it, the films take the same basic idea and dramatize it in very different ways.  The Mexican film was about the father of a family who drops dead, leaving the teenage children of the family to carry on the primary responsibility of their particular family, the capture and preparation of a very particular kind of meat.  Jorge Michel Grau's film was set in the city, evidently, and that was a big part of the tension of the film.

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