2.5 stars (out of four)
In a post-apocalyptic world with virtually no one around, it would be fortunate for anyone to stumble upon you and tell you to get out of the radioactive water.
But Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is particularly lucky that his savior is Ann (Margot Robbie), a warm, lovely woman who nurses him back to health and eventually attempts to seduce him. Let’s wait, he says. It will change things, and we have all the time in the world.
Because that’s the way things go, almost immediately their society of two gains a third: Caleb (Chris Pine), who’s handsome and, like Ann, a member of the striking blue eyes club. Skepticism and jealousy ensue. I can’t help but wonder how much more about human nature might be revealed if the same situation occurred but no one was attracted to anybody and some or all of the characters were annoying. Would the same sense of expectation and romantic possibility emerge, with the logic being that something is better than nothing?
A lot of unspoken feeling lives on these faces, though, as good performances (Robbie in particular creates a complex world of conflicting emotions and humble priorities within Ann) compensate for a plot that’s low on incident and high on predictability. “Z for Zachariah” comes from the novel by Robert C. O’Brien and is directed by Craig Zobel, who seems to have spent all his risk-taking tokens on his last film, 2012’s “Compliance.” In “Z,” the sleepy pacing seems to suggest a big punch will arrive, but this is a light tap of humanity in hard times, basic truths about faith and trust that are as subdued as the film and its landscape. Sometimes a movie really just needs some zombies.
1 star (out of four)
Patrick Wilson has made some really good movies (“Hard Candy,” “Little Children”) about guys who can’t keep it in their pants. And then there’s “Zipper,” a pathetic excuse for a political thriller that’s pretty much embarrassing for everyone involved.
Assistant U.S. attorney Sam Ellis (Wilson) follows advice that he needs to be squeaky clean for his political aspirations ... becoming a regular client (fake name: Bob Fisher) for a high-priced escort service called Executive Privilege. This means less time masturbating and a lot more time purchasing temporary cell phones and giving conspicuous looks whenever he thinks his wife (Lena Headey), who’s such a thin character her name may as well be “Main character’s wife,” might be catching on. (Interesting: Apparently escort service websites have reviews. Sadly the film doesn’t really show any.) Of course, Sam seems to give no thought to the thousands of dollars he’s spending, which means he’s using his brain about as much director/co-writer Mora Stephens. “Zipper” is badly written, acted and directed, and such a thin, dismal take on the kind of scandal everyone was talking about 7 years ago that it’s almost stunning how little the film actually exposes.
Not that “Zipper” would have seemed any better had it come out in 2008. It partially recalls “Men, Women and Children,” which is never a plus, and should make people revisit Alex Gibney’s “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.” “Zipper” contains no comment on the arrogance that seems to drive powerful people who think their job title means they won’t be caught. And that the movie takes more than 100 minutes to tell a story without any surprises or dramatic interest--and includes comically bad depictions of journalists and shady politicians—almost makes you wish it at least descended to laughable, Cinemax-esque sleaze. Almost.
Alexandra Breckenridge quotes a movie she loves. #Sundance #whataboutbob #zipper
Alexandra Breckenridge has been on a million shows, wishes she could do these. #Sundance #zipper
Alexandra Breckenridge on scandals involving escort services. #Sundance #zipper
Penelope Mitchell quotes a movie she loves. #Sundance #zipper
John Cho ponders the future of relationships. #Sundance #zipper
Dianna Agron on resisting temptation. #Sundance #zipper
Richard Dreyfuss' tip for resisting temptation. #Sundance #zipper
John Cho quotes a movie he loves. #Sundance #groundhogday #zipper
John Cho's tips for politicians thinking of sleeping around. #Sundance #zipper
Patrick Wilson, playing another guy who can't resist. #Sundance # zipper
Would Brooklyn Decker make a good personal trainer? #Sundance #results
3 stars (out of four)
Call me surprised: The breakout part for Cobie Smulders at Sundance isn’t her lead role in the Chicago-made, just-OK “Unexpected” but as Kat, an intense personal trainer in writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s minor but consistently amusing “Results.”
Whether Kat’s angry or vulnerable—and it’s awesome to see Smulders get furious and profane like this—the actress commands the movie, a strong character to offset a number of more restrained ones. She begins working with a new client named Danny (Kevin Corrigan), who’s recently divorced and has little to do with his riches and no one to do it with. He’s bad at working out and lazy enough to post an ad offering to pay someone $200 to come figure out how to turn the TV on. (The guy who arrives mostly instructs Danny on the on/off button.)
Danny’s also the kind of guy that posts a selfie of himself eating a slice of pizza while shirtless. This is a sad man in need, and his trainer tries to help him. But it turns out she’s missing something too, complicating their relationship as well as Kat’s with her boss/fellow trainer, Trevor (Guy Pearce, who Bujalski says was a teen bodybuilder, FYI), with whom she has a history.
This is the first Bujalski (“Computer Chess,” “Beeswax,” “Mutual Appreciation”) movie I’ve liked, partly because “Results” actually has pacing and a way into a story that actually goes somewhere. The laughs may be small, but sometimes it’s all right for a character-driven comedy to hold your attention and make you smile/chuckle rather than crack up at its wackiness. All of these people have something attainable that they want, but none of them really know how to get it, and they usually focus more on what they don’t have (a different body, money, sex, opportunity or otherwise) rather than what they do. Bujalski injects the truth that having or not having certain things, particularly money or the body you want, sometimes comes from a result of arbitrary elements people don’t decide.
Not every motivation really makes sense here, and “Results” kinda moves in fits and starts. Yet what begins as a study of potentially hopeless self-improvement becomes a funny, appealing look at loneliness and the motivations behind life’s little fixes.
The best pickup line Andrew Bujalski has heard. #Sundance #results
How Andrew Bujalski would motivate me if he were a personal trainer. #Sundance #results
If Dana Gordon would have greenlit "The Interview." #entourage #Sundance #results
Kevin Corrigan's impersonation of Christopher Walken on "Seven Psychopaths." #Sundance #results
What "Breakfast Club" question does Anthony Michael Hall never want to hear again? #Sundance #results
If Constance Zimmer has confronted people who annoy her ar the gym. #Sundance #results
What bugs Constance Zimmer at the gym. #Sundance #results
How Cobie Smulders approaches interviewers that have been grouped.
The worst pickup line Brooklyn Decker has heard.
What bugs Brooklyn Decker about people at the gym?
Cobie Smulders on if Maria Hill or Robin Scherbatsky would be a better personal trainer.
Joe Swanberg reassures me.
Funny story from "Digging for Fire" Q&A.
3 stars (out of four)
When several Sundance movies have disappeared from my memory altogether, “Digging for Fire” is one I’ll still want to think about.
Tim (Jake Johnson, who co-wrote the film’s treatment from which the actors build the story through improvisation, with Chicago director Joe Swanberg) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt, wonderful) bring their 3-year-old son Jude (Swanberg’s son of the same name) as they housesit in a home bigger and more comfortable than their own. Soon Tim finds a gun and a bone and fixates on investigating further, especially when some of his pals (including Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia and Chris Messina) come over and the presence of two younger, lovely ladies (Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson) reminds Tim what he cannot have. Or can he? Meanwhile, Lee brings her son to her mom and stepdad’s place and heads out on her own, needing rare time to feel like herself again.
On some level, “Digging for Fire” (which was shot in L.A.) finds Swanberg repeating his recent work. He covered temptation and the sacrifices/strains of monogamy in his best-ever effort, “Drinking Buddies.” In “Happy Christmas” a couple with a young child struggled with how to function together and separately.
Yet “Digging for Fire” combines certain elements of those films into a meditation that stands on its own, partially because Swanberg’s style, impressively calm and confident, morphs into something dreamlike and lyrical. Giving both leads rich, subtle roles while providing deliberate fantasy alternatives to their spouse, Swanberg taps into a feeling of 30-something mortality, with Tim and Lee both feeling a loss of independence and connection, worn down by the monotonies of adulthood and demands of parenthood.
The symbolism at first seems on the nose (get it, digging for bones and digging for the rejuvenation of this relationship—fire equals excitement) but develops beyond that to say that just because you don’t dig for something doesn’t mean it’s not there. And sometimes you don’t know what you hope to find, only that you need to look.
Joe Swanberg quotes a movie he loves.
Jake Johnson quotes the best movie ever.
2.5 stars (out of four)
Like the waves of the ocean its characters occasionally and semi-fearfully embrace, “The Strongest Man” continually goes in and out, connecting and drifting away. It’s the low-stakes story of a Cuban man named Beef (Robert Lorie), whose life in Miami takes a major hit when his bike is stolen. Not that this has much of an impact; he’s just upset about it. He also struggles to articulate his feelings for Illi (Ashly Burch) and mildly resents his best friend Conan (Paul Chamberlain) for bringing him to the street where the bike was ultimately taken.
Writer-director Kenny Riches has a unique eye for depicting personal relationships and crafting a tone; he refuses to mine laughs from irony, crafting endearing characters and an offbeat story that’s elusive but never mean-spirited. That said, an oddball yoga teacher (Patrick Fugit) doesn’t fit, and it’s one of several ways in which the film’s bizarre, dreamlike elements (monsters?) clash with everyday realities (like Beef’s ignorant, bigoted coworkers on a construction site) and charming details (Beef needing to borrow $1 after giving $1 to a person in need). There’s a certain lyricism in its breeze, depending on which way it’s blowing.
Viewed via screener before the festival
Rosemarie DeWitt quotes a movie she loves.
What not to do in a relationship from Rosemarie DeWitt.
Things to do to keep a relationship strong from Rosemarie DeWitt.
More on Jay Cutler from Jake Johnson.
Jake Johnson defends Jay Cutler, who Johnson wants back.
Is Jake Johnson more excited about the Cubs or Bears next season?
2.5 stars (out of four)
Funny like its subject but not nearly as daring, “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon” certainly showcases the dark sense of humor that originated as a magazine at Harvard and became a comedy factory whose influence still appears in radio, TV, print and through filmmakers like Judd Apatow. This documentary has many examples of National Lampoon’s button-pushing work, including a Mademoiselle parody story “Exclusive: Clothes to be dead in” and a cover featuring a dog with a gun to its head with text reading, “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”
That’s plenty entertaining, as is seeing footage from the early careers of people like John Belushi, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, who went from Second City to National Lampoon to “Saturday Night Live”—whose first cast, in fact, was primarily taken from NatLamp. (Some people really called it that, apparently.) But a documentary needs to do more than just say what happened. “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead” doesn’t have to overanalyze comedy, but it should analyze the people who gave life to its subject.
Other than somewhat broadly recalling personal problems experienced by founder Doug Kenney, the film never goes very far outside the office. Alternating repetitively between talking heads and archival footage, with photos frequently and tiresomely made to look like pages in a magazine, director/co-writer Douglas Tirola neglects to consider much criticism leveled at National Lampoon, or to explore why the staff was mostly men, or consider the role of substance abuse as part of the creative process among both some of its originators and most famous alumni. Outside of just them being rich and famous and the drugs being available.
It adds up to a reasonably informative good time, with memorable takeaways like the brand teaching Billy Bob Thornton about using humor to tell the truth and making Kevin Bacon want to buy the magazine because he wanted to see breasts. The problem is that National Lampoon, never afraid to satirize controversial subjects including politics and war, wasn’t just about being funny. It was about being about smart and courageous, and that’s where “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead”—which isn’t nearly as dramatic as its title—lets down the material.
Olivia Cooke on her "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" role. #Sundance
2.5 stars (out of four)
Is there anything new to be done in movies about unexpected pregnancy, which seem to come along as often as superheroes and sequels? (An exaggeration, of course, but you get the point.)
With “Unexpected,” Chicago filmmaker Kris Swanberg (wife of Joe) answers that question in the affirmative, though it’s a somewhat soft, quiet yes. Already stressed about losing her job when her Englewood school closes at the end of the year, CPS science teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) exclaims “[Bleep]!” when she learns that she’s pregnant. She and her boyfriend, John (Evanston native Anders Holm of “Workaholics”), quickly get engaged and married with an urgency that doesn’t really convince. (Also, why wasn’t Samantha taking birth control?) Then she discovers that Jasmine (Gail Bean), a student with a 3.8 GPA and hopes to attend college, is pregnant and considering adjusting those plans. On the plus side, it’s a friend to accompany Samantha to pre-natal yoga, but she’s concerned about teenager nonetheless.
Swanberg does a nice job establishing Jasmine’s family’s financial situation, and the movie’s best scenes deal with different expectations and flawed communication between Samantha and John regarding her post-baby career plans. He says he thinks being a stay-at-home mom will give her a nice break from working. Her perfect response: “You think that staying home with an infant is a break?”
If only the movie felt as full as that moment, or several instances of characters doing things (Samantha feeling sad at a pep rally and later inventing a method for fastening pants while pregnant; a student accidentally hitting herself in the face while standing to acknowledge her college acceptance during an assembly) that make them feel like real people. But Swanberg isn’t particularly attentive to the actual fears and lessons of the pregnancy process, leaving Samantha and John’s relationship a bit under-examined--though it’s more fully realized than the unfinished look at Jasmine’s relationship with her baby’s father. And while it would by no means be easy to incorporate a discussion of violence, it’s notable that the filmmaker avoids any acknowledgement of that aspect of life in Englewood.
Yet even if “Unexpected” doesn’t have a knockout performance like “Obvious Child,” Sundance 2014’s great movie about unexpected pregnancy, the intimacy of its relationships and sense of scale mostly work in favor of a story about decisions and compromises. By the way, there aren’t a lot of Chicago spots mentioned, though Hopleaf gets a name check, and there’s an early shot of the Western Ave. Blue Line stop with a RedEye box on full display. Would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy that.
2.5 stars (out of four)
Before evaluating documentarian Alex Gibney’s (“The Armstrong Lie”) look at Scientology, it’s worth considering how challenging it can be to understand any beliefs that are different from your own, even if they don’t involve galactic overlords.
It’s also worth acknowledging that as compelling as it is to see vivid anecdotal evidence of the controversial organization’s sinister practices—who takes on the IRS and wins?!—it’s arguably more valuable to consider who joins this world, and how thousands remain despite reports of torture and intimidation. Gibney’s proven that he’s unafraid to go after big-time subjects (“We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”), but he also again winds up with limited opportunity to really dive into the more veiled side of his subject. Most of the film’s talking heads are ex-members. What personality type joins Scientology, and if, as “Going Clear” seems to suggest, they are vulnerable people becoming victims to manipulation and brainwashing, why Scientology and not something else?
Gibney fails to address this, and a late-movie note about the accumulating power of the religion—by the way, it’s also worth considering how to define “religion,” as Scientology had to fight for that designation for tax purposes—doesn’t reconcile how declining numbers and bad PR can still lead to influence just because Scientology leader David Miscavige (who in his younger days sometimes kinda looked like Seth Meyers) has purchased property around the world. Though what “Going Clear” does very effectively in adapting Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name is identifying founder L. Ron Hubbard as a calculating, deceptive, ex-sci-fi-writer huckster who somehow converted a legion of followers, including stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and then used their own personal information against them. Billion year contracts? Planetary origins based on space planes? Um, to each their own. And Gibney also should have acknowledged that Scientology is hardly the only religion that seeks to garner money from its members and sometimes engages in questionable practices.
While there’s no denying the chilling implications of the film and this organization, it’s hard not to wonder about the many threads “Going Clear” leaves untouched. On a related note: “The Master” is sensational.
1 star (out of four)
The entertaining, life-in-a-holding-pattern wisdom of “Frances Ha” curdles into something abrasive and phony in “Mistress America,” the second collaboration between star/co-writer Greta Gerwig and co-writer/co-director Noah Baumbach. What is he doing trying to make a farce? Watch “Damsels in Distress” (which also starred Gerwig) for a much, much, much better example of what’s attempted in “Mistress America,” which perpetuates the clueless pretentiousness it sometimes seeks to indict.
Gerwig plays Brooke, an extremely irritating person who thinks she’s self-aware but of course doesn’t realize how callously and selfishly she deals with people. Tracy (Lola Kirke), a college freshman at Barnard who soon will be Brooke’s stepsister, looks up to the 30-year-old aspiring restaurateur, but one of the many failures of “Mistress America” is that it never makes us see Brooke through Tracy’s eyes. The former is always just an unpleasant person to be around, and the admiration she receives couldn’t be less convincing or more frustrating.
It’s not that movie characters have to be likable. Around this time at Sundance 2014 I saw Jason Schwartzman as the obnoxious title character in “Listen Up Philip,” but that very well acted film is funny and pointed about the literary world it presents. The poorly acted “Mistress America” feels like an unintentional self-parody of what people can’t stand about New York-set dramas in which the only thing anyone wants is to be a writer or some other creative type.
What makes this all go down like a glass of rocks is the unnatural, awkward rhythm Baumbach
establishes, making the dialogue fly at hyper-speed as if this were David Fincher stuffing Aaron Sorkin’s words into two hours for “The Social Network.” Not even close. The only thing I liked about the self-congratulatory “Mistress America” is that it runs only 80-some minutes, and ended not a second too soon.
Self-explanatory. #wethot #Sundance #meandearlandthedyinggirl
More on why conformity bugged Nick Offerman. #Sundance #meandearlandthedyinggirl