Latest Blog Posts

Brie Larson and James Ponsoldt discuss getting teens right on 'The Spectacular Now'

Brie Larson and James Ponsoldt discuss getting teens right on 'The Spectacular Now'

High school romance premiered at Sundance this weekend
PARK CITY - The Sundance Film Festival offers the opportunity for interview backdrops that you can't get anywhere else. It also offers the chance to conduct an interview under the coldest conditions imaginable.
Case in point: On Saturday (January 19) afternoon, after the sun had dipped and temperatures had plummeted into the single digits, I chatted with "The Spectacular Now" director James Ponsoldt and co-star Brie Larson about premiering their new teen drama at Sundance. It was frigid, but since "The Spectacular Now" is a film I quite like -- Check out my review -- I was grateful that Ponsoldt and Larson were willing to shiver at the base of the Main Street ski lift to talk about the project and how they want to define it, or maybe not-define it.
"They are teenagers, but I think it transcends the usual tropes of a quote-unquote teen film," Ponsoldt says.
And when I asked Larson what normal "teen movie" script get wrong, she quickly responded, "The whole thing. Generally, just the whole thing."
In the video, Larson and Ponsoldt talk about what they hope their film gets right and the challenges of balancing comedy, earnestness and romance under the same cinematic roof.
Enjoy the interview some place warm.
Read Full Post
<p>&quot;Inequality For All&quot;</p>

"Inequality For All"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: Robert Reich thrives in the 'Inequality For All' spotlight

It's like 'An Inconvenient Truth' only more entertaining in every way
There will be a knee-jerk desire to compare Jacob Kornbluth's "Inequality For All" to Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth."
Both Sundance-launched documentaries feature members of the Clinton Administration giving illustrated lectures that attempt to expand issues of vital importance beyond dry liberal talking points.
So far be it for me to break from the expected pack: What "An Inconvenient Truth" was for environmental science, "Inequality For All" absolutely is for economic inequality. 
For whoever ends up acquiring and distributing "Inequality For All," there are empirical advantages to that comparison. "An Inconvenient Truth" took in nearly $50 million worldwide, making it the most lucrative PowerPoint presentation in history. It also won a Documentary Oscar in a year that featured Amy Berg's "Deliver Us From Evil," as well as "Jesus Camp" and "Iraq in Fragments."
That's high achievement for a documentary which, if we're being honest, was admirably persuasive, but fell short of any high level of filmmaking. 
"An Inconvenient Truth" was a filmed position paper and it will probably be a valuable classroom aid for years to come, but it's not a good movie. 
So while "Inequality For All" may deserve its easy linkages to "An Inconvenient Truth," that may also be selling the new documentary short. I'm not going to get into the relative political values of their arguments, but when it comes to artistic values, this isn't a close one.
Kornbluth's documentary is provocative and smart. It's also energetic and fun. It's "An Inconvenient Truth" for economics, but it's also much better. I may with that "Inequality For All" did a bit more, but what it does, it does well.
More after the break...
Read Full Post
"Private Practice"

 "Private Practice"

Credit: ABC

Interview: Amy Brenneman talks about the end of 'Private Practice'

The star promises that Violet will get a 'happy ending' - but not with a guy

The end is nearing for "Private Practice," (Tues. at 10:00 p.m.) which will be heading off into the TV sunset after six seasons on Jan. 22. I'll admit I'm sad to see the show, a frequently sudsy medical procedural with unexpected emotional kick, go. Even though I came to the party far too late, having gotten hooked on the show during a trip to Brazil (the show was subtitled instead of dubbed into Portuguese, so how could I resist?), it only took a few episodes for me to get so hooked on the travails of Oceanside Wellness Center's beleaguered staff I added it to my to-do list the minute I got home. 

So, I was excited to get a chance to talk to star Amy Brenneman (Dr. Violet Turner) about what's on the way. The actress,  unlike her grieving character, seemed upbeat and happy to talk about what's next for her (which, so far, isn't TV) and was excited about how Violet's character arc concludes -- hinting that women who might see themselves in Violet should be as well. We discussed whether or not it's possible for the recently widowed Violet to have a happy ending, why she isn't eager to be an "actor for hire" again, and why she found the mixed-up styles of the final season to be "fun, not a challenge." 

Read Full Post
<p>Steve Coogan in &quot;The Look of Love.&quot;</p>

Steve Coogan in "The Look of Love."

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Review: Coogan and Winterbottom revisit 24-hour party people in 'The Look of Love'

Biopic of London's red light district king could use another pass in the editing room

PARK CITY - Sometimes a title change -- even one necessitated by external forces -- can reveal more about a film's uncertainties than anyone involved could possibly realize. Michael Winterbottom's jazzy but scattershot biopic of London nightlife kingpin Paul Raymond, at one point declared Britain's richest man, is one such example.

Originally dubbed "The KIng of Soho," the film was made to change this straightforward title following the threat of legal action from a rival Raymond project. That's neither here nor there, but as a replacement appellation, "The Look of Love" seems so irrelevant to the subject at hand -- bar the recurring presence of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David chestnut on the soundtrack -- that one wonders whether those who chose it had any idea what the film was about.

Read Full Post
<p>Trust me when I say nothing good can come of this.</p>

Trust me when I say nothing good can come of this.

Credit: The Collective/Bloody Disgusting

Review: Apocalyptic horror anthology 'S-VHS' is that rare sequel that improves on the original

Even more uncommon? Anthology films with no weak links

PARK CITY - Last year, the anthology horror film "V/H/S" made its premiere as part of the midnight selections, and I was there for the first screening.  I really liked "V/H/S," and I think the format for the film is the greatest part of it.  It is an invitation to filmmakers, basically.  A "What If?" game that any horror artist would be happy to play.  I said in my review of the first film that the last segment was the one that impressed me most.  "The final segment by Radio Silence feels like the brakes are off and you're flying off the mountain into the void."  Well, this entire film feels like it starts at that place and then raises the stakes.  The first film told the story of some rotten deaths of some people in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The second film feels more like a document proving that the end of the world is underway.

Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard have spent the last few years carving a space out for themselves to play, and their fingerprints are all over this second film.  The wrap-around segment is written and directed by Simon, and there is a segment written by him and directed by Adam who also stars in in.  Simon appears onscreen in his own wrap-around segment.  Naked.  So you have that to look forward to, America.  Wingard's story mines a potent notion about our increasing relationship to technology.  I have joked that my kids are both cyborgs, but I'm not really kidding.  They think of technology less as individual objects and more as the way the world works.  Wingard is given an experimental replacement eye that also holds a recording device, and in accepting his new extension, he also has to accept access to a whole new visual realm.  Wingard's house becomes a trap, and the rhythm of the piece is aggressive, new scares piled one after another.

Read Full Post
<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.

Read Full Post
<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.

Read Full Post
<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."

Read Full Post
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.
Read Full Post
<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...
Read Full Post
<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.

Read Full Post
<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.

Read Full Post