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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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<p>From &quot;Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer&quot;</p>

From "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer"

'Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer': Freed band member tackles Q&A at Sundance

Don't hold your breath for a Pussy Riot album

PARK CITY, UTAH -- "A Punk Prayer" from Russian band Pussy Riot has been in circulation for months as a rallying cry for feminism and political protest in Russia and worldwide. "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," the documentary on the phenomenon, only bowed last night at the Sundance Film Festival.

Katia Samutsevich, Nadia Tolokonikovoy and Maria "Macha" Alyokhina were arrested in March 2012 for their feral punk performance in a church, a musical plea to remove Vladimir Putin from power. Under charges of hooliganism, they were put in prison, though just this fall, Samutsevich's sentence was suspended, though the other two arrested women are carrying out their terms. Two other Pussy Riot members escaped from the incident and have thumbed their noses at Russian authorities from hiding.

This seemingly small strife made waves in the music community in America and elsewhere, as a cry for equality and freedom of expression. Acts like Madonna (in a big way) and Bjork made public stances against Pussy Riot's imprisonment, and came out in support of a lenient sentencing, if not having the charges dropped altogether.

Only three days ago, a judge refused Alyokhina's request to postpone her sentence, so the two remain in a criminal facility. But things have freed up for Samutsevich, who answered Sundance audiences' questions via Skype from Russia after the documentary debuted.

Co-director Maxim Pozdorovkin translated her answers to burning questions from fans and newswatchers:

While she was in prison, did she know about the global awareness the band's imprisonment was raising?

We did know that there was some sort of global awareness going on and we heard about it and as it got bigger and bigger, and with Madonna's performance and all these other things, we felt like there were other things coming our way.

Was there any resentment felt from the other two women who remained imprisoned, after Katia's sentence was suspended?

There wasn't really any feelings. And even til the 10th, we were all certain we were going into a penal colony together. As I remembered it, they were all very happy for me. I went to visit them the day after I got out, so I don't think there's hard feelings.

Are you afraid, or is the band afraid of any dangerous backlash?

No, I don't fear any specific backlash from the religious community because part of that was a mass campaign against them... and that was just mostly words and threats. In terms of the government response, [I] think that we're probably on several black lists and some extremism lists, and it may be in the future when we continue to do performances, we may have [charges pressed against us] for smaller things, smaller actions.

Does Katia have any hope that the other two girls' sentences will also be suspended?

There's hope and not all legal means have been used up, so they will continue to fighting so that all opportunities will be used up.

Have they ever released an album officially, and do they have plans to?

No, we reject commercialism of any sort, and we have no plans to release anything commercial... we will never commodify our art.

Right now in Russia, how much is still going on in regards to Pussy Riot?

Most of the battle is to get Nadia and Macha out of jail. The punk prayer was deemed extremist and  ordered removed from the internet, so now they're repealing those decisions... it's a tough situation because of the repressive means that were used before, there's less of a drive than there was before for people on the streets.

There were two other people in the band that weren't arrested. What happened with them?

They're fine, they're in Russia (laughter).

What do the people of Russia think of Pussy Riot?

If you take just the average opinion, it tends to be overall negative of [us]. a\And part of the reason for this is because of the way the performance was presented it was considered almost exclusively as a religious act of hooliganism. So that's what most people tend to believe. Whereas the feminist and political aspect of our performance has been largely ignored and this points to the larger problem of cultural education that people don't understand it as a piece of art.

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Watch: 'Don Jon's Addiction' helmer Joseph Gordon-Levitt says rom-coms are porn
Credit: HitFix

Watch: 'Don Jon's Addiction' helmer Joseph Gordon-Levitt says rom-coms are porn

Julianne Moore mum on her character, but likes the sexy, 'intense' material

PARK CITY, UTAH - "Don Jon's Addiction" is just one of several films at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival with  firmly sexual scenarios at its center; it joins other films like "Lovelace," "Interior. Leather Bar" and "Kink" in the lineup. But as writer, director and star of "Don Jon's," Joseph Gordon-Levitt told HitFix he had a larger picture in mind, beyond his character's addiction to porn.

"I wanted to tell a story about love... people objectifying each other," he said of his film.

"Don Jon's" boasts other talent like love interest Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, who wished to remain mum on the topic of her character on the red carpet.  But Gordon-Levitt further explains the idea of objectification, and how it turns into a comedy. "My character watches a lot of porn. Scarlett's character watches a lot of romantic Hollywood movies. I think all that stuff is hilarious."

Because to the "Looper" actor, rom-coms  are porn in a way, too.

Moore said the script was "beautifully written," even for subject matter that's "pretty intense,"

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<p>Dave Grohl</p>

Dave Grohl

Credit: HitFix

Stalk talk with Dave Grohl: Nobody said 'no' to Sundance's 'Sound City' - Watch

'Hey, I'm Dave...'

PARK CITY, UTAH -- Nobody says no to Dave Grohl. At least, that was the case when the Foo Fighters frontman started tracking down talking talent for his directorial debut "Sound City," which centers around the California rock studio of the same name.

Grohl corralled artists like Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor and others for sit-down interviews, but also for jam sessions on new originals that would eventually make the soundtrack to "Sound City." To make his dream list, he asked the former Sound City principals to give him a list of who all has laid down tracks in their ugly yet esteemed walls.

"They were like, 'Are you f*cking kidding?'," which fulfills the "too many to name" quandary. But once he had his top talent in mind, it was time for some cold calls.

"Like, 'Hey, I'm Dave, I'm making a movie. And everybody said yes."

Watch the video above, for what spurred Grohl's purchase of Sound City's recording console and its importance to his former band Nirvana's legacy.

"Sound City" debuted at the Sundance Film Festival yesterday (Jan. 18).

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<p>Matthew Macfadyen of &quot;Ripper Street&quot;</p>

Matthew Macfadyen of "Ripper Street"

Credit: BBC America

Matthew Macfadyen talks 'Ripper Street' and 'Anna Karenina'

New BBC America drama premieres on Saturday night
Like many a British thespian, Matthew Macfadyen has reliably bounced back and forth between the big screen and television, whether wooing Elizabeth Bennett in "Pride & Prejudice" or battling international intrigue in "MI-5."
 
Fresh off a well-received supporting turn as Oblonsky in Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" this winter, Macfadyen is back on TV on Saturday (January 19) night fighting crime in Victorian England in BBC America's "Ripper Street."
 
During the Television Critics Association press tour this month, I sat down with MacFadyen to talk about his role as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid on "Ripper Street," which was created by Richard Warlow and co-stars Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg. We also talked a bit about Wright's highly theatrical Tolstoy adaptation, as well as his creative process. 
 
Click through...
 
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Alicia Keys talks scoring Sundance pic 'Mister and Pete' and maybe playing Lena Horn
Credit: HitFix

Alicia Keys talks scoring Sundance pic 'Mister and Pete' and maybe playing Lena Horn

Could her film cohorts Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson show up on future tracks?

Alicia Keys just scheduled her 2013 tour dates, but this month is marked up with her other, new gig, as executive producer and score composer for Sundance film "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete."

Directed by George Tillman, Jr., the drama is led by two "incredibly" young, fresh actors, in addition to some names that will sound familiar to fans of Keys' music and contemporaries: Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson.

In a cast with other "grown-ups" like Anthony Mackie and Jeffrey Wright, the two singing stars will be stretching out their acting muscles yet again. Keys said "Jennifer Hudson is outstanding" in her role as a heroin-addicted mom from the projects in New York. You can learn more about that transformation in HitFix's interview with Hudson here.

Keys is open to collaborating with those two former "AI" stars on future recording projects. As for the music in "Mister and Pete," she described it as "pulled back" compared to what's on recent albums like "Girl on Fire."

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<p>Dermot Mulroney in &quot;The Rambler&quot;</p>

Dermot Mulroney in "The Rambler"

Credit: Anchor Bay Films

Weinstein, Anchor Bay strike first on Sundance acquistions

'Twenty Feet From Stardom' and 'The Rambler' find homes

PARK CITY - Sundance is well under way and on opening day, acquisitions had already been announced.

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<p>&quot;The World According to Dick Cheney&quot;</p>

"The World According to Dick Cheney"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'The World According to Dick Cheney' offers no apologies

R.J. Cutler doc will premiere on Showtime this spring
I watched "The World According to Dick Cheney" last week to talk with director R.J. Cutler about the doc, which is set to air on Showtime in March.
 
I found the film to be informative and compulsively infuriating in intriguing ways. And in the 15 minutes I chatted with Cutler -- that interview will run closer to the Showtime premiere -- it became very, very, very clear that the fascination I felt with "The World According to Dick Cheney" wasn't, in any particular way, in synch with Cutler's perception of his own movie. This doesn't bother me. An artist creates work and puts it out there for interpretation. I've often interviewed filmmakers about projects I actively disliked and that they thought were brilliant, or at least they professed to at the time. This isn't that sort of thing. In fact, I mostly mention the discordance here because it's somewhat less frequent that I get into disagreements with filmmakers over the nature of something that I quite liked.
 
Realistically, "The World According to Dick Cheney" is, as you might guess, designed to be a litmus test sorta movie and many reactions are going to hinge on your position on the political spectrum and your interpretation of what Cutler was or wasn't able to get from Dick Cheney. 
 
I rewatched "The World According to Dick Cheney" at its premiere on Friday (January 19) afternoon at the Sundance Film Festival and even watching with Cutler's words in my head -- not necessarily something a critic should normally try to do -- I came away with my opinion -- still positive -- and my perception still intact.
 
Your perception, like R.J. Cutler's perception, may vary. [Note that Greg Finton is also credited as director on "The World According to Dick Cheney," though it's still called "an R.J. Cutler film."]
 
Full review after the break...
 
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<p>I&nbsp;know the feeling.</p>

I know the feeling.

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Review: 'Escape From Tomorrow' is a surrealist treat that will give Disney's lawyers nightmares

One-of-a-kind film screens as part of the Sundance NEXT category

PARK CITY - Probably a half-hour into "Escape From Tomorrow," I turned to William Goss, another critic who was at the screening with me, and whispered, "How does this exist?"

Perhaps the most unusual thing I've ever seen at a film festival, "Escape From Tomorrow" is a slow descent into madness, told from the perspective of a father who finds out that he has lost his job on the final morning of a family vacation.  As he spends the day with his family, trying to make them happy, his grip on reality seems to come gradually unhinged, leading to… well, I'm not sure I could describe what it leads to even if it weren't a spoiler.  Shot in black-and-white, the film has a strange disassociated vibe to the storytelling, and writer/director Randy Moore has a very clear authorial voice.  It is not an understatement to say that it is one of the most unsettling things I've experienced in a theater in quite a while, and part of that is because, even now, even after seeing the Q&A with Moore, even after talking it over with Goss while we ate dinner, even after going over it in my head, I still don't fully understand what I just saw.

All I know is Walt Disney's lawyers are probably climbing onto helicopters and planning a raid on Park City right now.

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