January 2019 archive

Principles of Empathy: Ebert Fellow Whitney Spencer’s First Impressions of Sundance 2019

I woke up Wednesday morning with a knot in my stomach. My flight was scheduled to leave Chicago at 9:55am and it finally felt official—I was a Roger Ebert Fellow and I was headed to Sundance. As a Sundance rookie, I had consumed more research, tips, and tricks that even I care to admit. Luckily, …

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Sundance 2019: Midnight Family, One Child Nation, Untouchable

In a city of nine million people, Mexico City has only 45 official ambulances. The need for immediate medical attention is largely fulfilled by non-government workers, as civilians zip around the city in their own ambulances, using their own gear, fielding life or death situations. And when they get to the hospital, that’s when they …

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Sundance 2019: Luce, Big Time Adolescence, Them That Follow

We seem to be worried about our children. Sure, Sundance has a long history of movies about periled adolescence, but it’s been a more prominent trend here over the last couple years. “Eighth Grade” was one of last year’s biggest hits to come from the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition slate, and this year I saw …

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Fighting with My Family

Can you smeeelll what the Stephen Merchant is cooking? Yes, while “Fighting with My Family” boasts a guru-presence cameo by Dwayne Johnson, a whole lot of funny talent performing athletic slapstick, and even some laugh-out-loud shade at Vin Diesel, the key to WWE Studios’ best film yet is the co-creator behind shows like “Hello Ladies” …

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Sundance 2019: Aquarela, Sea of Shadows, Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen

“Aquarela” is of the most frightening and persuasive movies I’ve ever seen about the destruction created by climate change. With incredibly cinematic imagery and a succinct narrative conveyed by editing instead of talking heads or voiceover, the film depicts how global warming turns peaceful ice into vengeful tidal waves.  “Immersive” is the best word to describe the …

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Dick Miller: 1930-2019

Dick Miller is dead. If I were to announce this news to a group of people whose lives did not necessarily revolve around the world of film, there is an excellent chance that such news would be regarded with little more than a well-meaning shrug. If I were to accompany that news with a picture …

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Sundance 2019: Sweetheart, Corporate Animals

A young woman washes up on a deserted island in the opening scene of J.D. Dillard’s great “Sweetheart,” a creature feature with practical effects and fascinating thematic undercurrents that could be pitched as “Cast Away meets Cloverfield.” We will learn that the woman is named Jen (Kiersey Clemons), and she has a fellow survivor who …

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Sundance 2019: The Report, Official Secrets

Sundance has always been a hot spot for politically conscious films, works that often reflect the liberal worldview of the majority of the artistic community and the festival founders. As filmmakers are starting to peel back the curtain of history and tell some of the lesser known stories about the state of the country after …

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Penelope Spheeris on Suburbia and The Little Rascals

For many film buffs, filmmaker Penelope Spheeris will always either be The Punk Lady or the “Wayne’s World” Woman. Honestly: she’s both, and so much more. Spheeris—who wore several hats while working on short films written by and starring Albert Brooks and Richard Pryor—has more than earned her reputation as a big-hearted, but un-sentimental “rock …

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The Wild Pear Tree

Throughout its majestic 188-minute running time, there is a profound sum of self-negotiation in Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “The Wild Pear Tree”; a slow-burning and unexpectedly humorous character study as reflective and impenetrable as anything in Ceylan’s filmography. I didn’t place the film’s intimidating length right at the top to scare you. Despite the …

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Paddleton

In the opening scene of Alex Lehmann’s buddy dramedy, “Paddleton,” the movie’s central characters are side-by-side, listening to the kind of news no one wants to hear from a doctor. Mike (Mark Duplass) may have cancer, a diagnosis he’s still processing when his fussy friend, Andy (Ray Romano), asks a slew of questions. The doctor …

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Sundance 2019: The Lodge, Memory – The Origins of Alien, Little Monsters

Horror is in a creatively robust periods with films like “Hereditary” and “Get Out” crossing the line that separates genre and “serious fare” (for those who make such distinctions). The Midnight section at Sundance has been a bit lackluster in recent years (with some striking exceptions like the aforementioned Ari Aster flick, “Mandy” and “The Babadook”) but …

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Sundance 2019: Suzan-Lori Parks on Adapting Native Son

America wasn’t created with the existence of the Black man in mind. All of that jazz about “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” protected the hopes and dreams of white men seeking freedom from their tyrannical giant across the pond. However, those same privileges were never meant to be extended to the Black bodies …

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Sundance 2019: Blinded by the Light

The anthems of Bruce Springsteen are the main inspiration behind “Blinded by the Light,” co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha’s coming-of-age story about a young man in 1987 Britain, whose life is changed once he starts listening to The Boss. But while Springsteen didn’t make a heavily-rumored appearance on Sunday night at the movie’s world premiere, the power …

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Jonathan Rosenbaum on His New Book Collection, Cinematic Encounters

In the summer of 1972, Jonathan Rosenbaum was a writer and film critic living in Paris who had begun researching an article on Orson Welles’s original Hollywood project, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness. Learning that Welles was also in Paris during the off and on shotgun production production of “The Other …

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Sundance 2019: Always in Season, Bedlam

In October 1934, Claude Neal was taken from a county jail in Alabama by a white mob who literally sent an invitation to a lynching. They tortured Neal, murdered him, and sold photos of his mutilated body so the hundreds of people who attended could remember the day. In July 1946, two married couples were …

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Sundance 2019: David Crosby: Remember My Name, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, Love Antosha

A trio of bio-docs premiered at Sundance this year, detailing the stories behind three incredibly different artists – David Crosby, Leonard Cohen, and Anton Yelchin. The different approaches to their life stories make for an interesting study in how artists make documentaries about other artists. The pitch for “David Crosby: Remember My Name” is a …

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TNT’s "I Am the Night" Leaves a Great Deal Unexplored

Jay Singletary lives with ghosts. We catch glimpses of them here and there throughout “I Am The Night”, the Chris Pine-starring limited series from Sam Sheridan (the series writer) and Patty Jenkins (a producer, who also directed three of six episodes). The reporter, a veteran of the Korean war, sees men who aren’t there, everywhere. Sometimes …

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Sundance 2019: Ms. Purple, Hala, Share

This year’s U.S. Dramatic category sees a filmmaker moving up the Sundance ranks—Justin Chon, who directed the tight-fisted, black-and-white LA Riots drama “Gook” (which played the festival’s NEXT section in 2016), now has a film in the so-called main competition program. With this family study, co-written by Chris Dinh, Chon continues to be an exciting but …

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Sundance 2019 Interview: Julius Onah on Luce

Questions of identity, power and perception are smartly absorbed and considered in “Luce”, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on Sunday in the US Dramatic Competition section. Director Julius Onah, who co-wrote the screenplay with J.C. Lee (in an adaptation of Lee’s stage play), says he was never interested in judging the characters …

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